By John O’Hara
As the pictures of the migrants fleeing Syria flash across our screenS on a daily basis, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we can no longer stand idly by and watch thousands of people perish at sea, in the back of lorries or whatever other contraption cruel human traffickers are using as a mean of making money.
I have listened to many commentators talk about the crisis and I am shocked at the level of detachment that has been shown. The picture of the three old Aylan Kurdi has sparked outrage across the western world, as we watched water lapping over his dead body, as he lay on a Turkish beach. But what of the other 4,000 who have taken their last breath in a bid for freedom? Are they somehow lesser than the three year old? Sometimes it can take one image for people to take notice. Perhaps Aylan is the ‘napalm girl’ of the refugee crisis and if he is, perhaps his death need not be in vain.
For the majority of people in Ireland, the war in Syria seems to have started last week. We have become immune to humanitarian needs, as our country evolves into one of narcissism and indifference. We are more interested in how many likes we have received on our latest Facebook post about what we had for breakfast than worrying about those who do not eat breakfast. The people of Syria are giving their life savings to flee the war ridden country, in the hope of a better life for them and their families. Surely the fact they are willing to risk their lives on death-traps disguised as boats tells us how desperate these people are.
This war has been raging since 2011 and so far, 200,000 people have lost their lives as Syria becomes a battle ground for domination of the Middle East. What started as a demonstration against President Assad’s brutal regime has blown up into all-out war with the battle lines becoming blurrier by the day. The rise of Islamic State in Northern and Eastern Syria has added another dimension to the chaos, as they strive to eliminate all enemies of Islam and attempt to seize control of the region and introduce Sharia Law.
This is the same group that has wreaked havoc in Iraq, as they attempt to create a caliphate, with non-Muslims being tortured and beheaded. They have also destroyed some of the most magnificent buildings in the regions with two thousand year old monuments in Palmyra crushed last week. The reason they are doing this is that these ancient ruins outdate Islam and they believe anything before Islam is an affront to their religion.
Since the beginning of the conflict, over four million people (the population of Ireland) have fled from Syria, heading to neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. But for many, the promised land is Europe, which is free from religious and political oppression. Germany is the most sought after location, as it has the resources to deal with the masses of people coming through the borders in Turkey and Hungary. Angela Merkel has stated that she is willing to do all that she can to help these people and has criticised the rest of Europe for not taking the same measures.
Here in Ireland, there have been calls for us to take in more migrants, in a bid to ease the pressures on Europe’s borders, although critics will say that this will have the opposite effect, with more people trying to gain access to Europe. On the ground, I have heard many views and to be honest they are bleak and grim. The level of apathy towards those that are dying is truly shocking. The majority of people I have spoken to have used the phrase ‘not our problem’ when summarising their position on more migrants coming into the country.
Yes, we’ve had a recession. Yes, we have a housing crisis. Yes, we are still trying to get to grips with unemployment figures, but I cannot fathom how people would suggest we simply turn our backs on these people and pretend that everything is okay. How do people not feel guilty when we look at our TV screens, when we listen to our radios or read our newspapers? How can a country with one of the highest rates of obesity deny starving children the right to live?
People also continue to ignore that it was western interference that has caused many of the problems in the Middle East. Remember the Iraq war? Where George Bush invaded in the quest for invisible ‘weapons of mass destruction’. His real mission was to topple Saddam Hussein, finishing his father’s business from the Gulf War. The Western world celebrated as Saddam’s reign came to an end, despite the fact that no one had thought about a post war strategy. No civil servants left to run the country, no tax system, just a vacuum, to be filled by Islamic militants, who make Saddam look like an angel. European intervention in the Middle-East has always been a failure, because it has always been to the advantage of the western world. Drawing lines on a map in a room thousands of miles from a complex region was never going to work, but that’s exactly what the British and Americans did after WWI and WWII. So when people say it has nothing to do with Europe, well that argument has a few flaws.
Like it or not, we are a first world country and we have responsibilities and not just to indigenous Irish people. For a country that has sent its people to the four corners of the world in search of work and a better life, the hypocrisy of denying others the chance to come here is absurd. Irish people boarded the same coffin ships hundreds of years ago that are sailing perilously across the Mediterranean right now. Those people went to Boston and New York, to California and Canada and although many didn’t see dry land, thousands carved out a new life for themselves, despite the maltreatment of those who did not want their presence. And now it us, the Irish, who infiltrated every country across the globe that wish to put the closed sign on our doors. The ‘Cead Mile Failte’ mat swiftly removed from the door, pretending that everything in the world is rosy, as we continue to munch our way to the top of the obesity league.
‘They’ll take our jobs,’ I’ve heard people say. ‘They’re terrorists,’ they exclaim. For the Irish who went to England in the seventies and eighties, I’m sure they’re aware of how an entire nation can be brandished negatively for the actions of a few. Builders and carpenters are well placed to explain the dirty looks they received after yet another IRA bomb had exploded on the streets of London and yet here we are now, casting aspersions on millions of people, because of the actions of their countrymen.
We can find excuses, we can hide behind the current laws, we can fool ourselves if we want but this is the biggest humanitarian crisis of our generation and we must ask ourselves, ‘are we really willing to turn a blind-eye?’ Are we really as morally bankrupt as some commentators have suggested? There are millions of reasons to go against helping migrants in this time of catastrophe, but we need only one reason to say yes.
In the words of Bono, ‘because we can, we must.’