Recently a friend working with refugees, told me “We are getting asylum seekers now from Syria and Iraq”. The United Nations Refugee Agency reported that in 2014 there was a 45% increase on the year 2013 of people seeking asylum, a total of 866,000, the highest since the war in Bosnia in the mid-nineties. We don’t need sociologists to give us the reasons for this. The spiralling conflicts in Syria and Iraq, have created “the worst humanitarian crisis of our era,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told reporters. Television and radio news reports make us familiar with the names of places we would otherwise never have heard of. Even more, we see faces, young and old, and hear voices, cries, appeals. 866,000 is not just a number. These are real people, struggling to survive in the harshest of conditions in war situations they had nothing to do with. Children want to be able to play; students to continue their education; parents to give security and a happy life to their families, to be able to provide for their needs. Everyone wants peace. The UNHCR figures do not include the millions of Syrians who have been taken in by countries such as Lebanon and Jordan.
More than 215,000 people are estimated to have been killed since the conflict in Syria started in 2011. Then there are the thousands whose graves are in the Mediterranean Sea, having tried desperately to enter Europe by boat.
Many years ago I heard a religious sister who had been working with the poorest in shanty towns, say that these impoverished people were called the “discarded ones”. Not by her, but by policy makers within that country as well as in the wider world. They didn’t count then and don’t count now. Shamefully we have to honestly admit that Syrians, Iraqis, and other asylum seekers are also the discarded ones. Europe has almost turned its back on them, narrowing down the sea rescues to those found close to shore. Why bother with the ones shipwrecked in the middle of the Mediterranean sea?
Ireland has agreed to accept 100 Syrian refugees this year, and something like 120 next year. That is 220 in a country of less than 5 million people! Little, overcrowded Lebanon, a neighbour to Syria, with a population similar to that in Ireland, is said to have accepted MORE THAN the total number accepted into Europe!
People will continue to risk their lives to find safety elsewhere as long as Western governments refuse to act decisively together with the overall aim of securing peace. Too many of our countries have other vested interests: arms sales, guarantee of uninterrupted oil supplies and so on. Moral leadership is a very rare thing today.
Christians everywhere have celebrates Easter. It is the great feast of the victory of life over death, of peace over conflict, of joy after sadness. It is our reminder that good will one day triumph, and the evils of terrorism, power grabbing, greed, torture, murder and destruction of all kinds will be overcome. May its celebration this year give us strong motivation to choose all that will bring life, not just for ourselves and those in our little worlds, but life for our suffering Muslim and Christian sisters and brothers in those, sadly familiar, war torn cities and regions of the world.