The efforts by the Canadian government to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees by February 2016 is generous, but it does not address the factors that caused the massive diaspora in the first place. Only when the roots of this and similar situations such as the North African migrant crisis are addressed can these human tragedies end.
This was the theme of a panel discussion held by Kaleidoscope World, a Canadian charity organization, on November 23rd.
The panel members discussed the complicated situations and obstacles refugees from all countries face during migration to Europe. The photos of Aylan Kurdi washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum focused the world’s attention on the plight of Syrian refugees, but there is also a significant number of individuals fleeing North Africa.
Not since the Second World War has there been such a huge number of people fleeing across borders in search of better economic opportunities and safety. For some the journey — which begins with hope — ends in death.
The dangerous crossing to Europe
Hilary Homes, the acting manager of Amnesty International Canada’s Campaign Team and a member of the panel, says that as of August, more than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea this year alone.
She recalls an incident in May 2015 when fishing boats carrying South Asian refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh were forced back into the sea by Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities who refused to let them disembark.
“The refugees were left without food, water and medical care for an entire week until the Philippines and later Indonesia offered to take them in,” she says.
More than 2,000 people drowned in the Mediterranean Sea in 2015.
This is only one example of a time when doors were slammed shut for refugees. Even if they successfully make the difficult journey to safety, refugees also face the threat of deportation.
Women refugees in particular “consistently face threats of violence, sexual violence, harassment and exploitation,” according to Homes.
She says the refugee camps are usually crowded, with insufficient washrooms, and common sleeping areas, which puts women in vulnerable positions.
Tackling the root causes of the migrant crisis
Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries, according to Hilda Joyce Portilla, another speaker.
Portilla, who teaches courses on migration, minority and sociology of family and gender relations at the University of Ottawa, explains that the problem for refugees does not start during migration: “The story begins long before that”.
Some of the factors that lead to mass migration include terrorism, poverty, state persecution and corruption.
Abai Coker, CEO of Canadian Solidarity and originally from Gambia, roots the problem in the corrupt systems of troubled African nations.
Solutions to the refugee crisis can only be found if the root causes are tackled in their home countries.
He explains that tourism has gone bankrupt and Gambia depends on foreign aid. There is a lack of job opportunities. Coker says the government simply doesn’t care for its citizens and has robbed them of hope in the future.
In Africa, the collective lifestyle and the focus on taking care of extended family members forces young people to move in search for opportunities, says Coker. They seek better lives in Europe, but often only find misery.
They can’t get jobs and as a result become homeless. Women are forced into prostitution, face constant violence and some lose their lives, he explains.
Europe has promised 1.8 billion euro to African countries in return for the deportation of “unwanted” refugees, but Coker thinks the aid will be in vain because of corruption. “Europe has to check if the infrastructure and policies are right for keeping those people [in African countries],” he states.
Confronting terrorism in the Middle East
Majed El-Shafie, the president of One Free World International, argues that terrorism is at the root of the migration problem in the Middle East. He says the solution must go beyond removing ISIS. “You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.”
El-Shafie said that the only way to stop terrorism is to educate the younger generation who are potential recruits for ISIS and other extremist groups. If they’re not properly educated, they will be more susceptible to the ideology.
He believes freedom of religion and separation of religion and state in the Middle East will bring the lengthy conflict to an end and pave the ground for democracy.
El-Shafie is also critical of Arab countries who share a similar religion, culture and language with Syria, but who are not taking in the refugees. Although 125 countries have ratified the UN Convention on refugees, most of the Middle East is absent from the list.
“You can fight ISIS, but you are facing an ideology.”
“Why are the Arab Muslim countries not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Why is Saudi Arabia not accepting more [Syrian] refugees? Qatar, Kuwait, Dubai, United Arab Emirates in general, Algeria, Morocco, Tunis?”
Once the refugees arrive in their new countries, the panelists say it’s imperative that social support structures are put in place to help the migrants not only adapt, but also succeed.
A refugee himself who came to Canada years ago, El-Shafie says the newcomers must not be treated as victims once they arrive. Instead they must be helped to stand on their feet again.
“We’re human beings, who need to be independent.”