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Sam Hamad

For Syrians fleeing Idlib, there's nowhere left to run

Assad's Idlib offensive could create another 3 million refugees [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 February, 2020

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Comment: The 2015 'refugee crisis' put the EU's inhumane anti-refugee policies on full display. A repeat of that could be about to happen, writes Sam Hamad.
Assad and his backers are closing in on the people of Idlib. Almost 1 million have been cleansed in a matter of 10 weeks, and there is now nowhere left for them to run.
 
Turkey says it simply can't absorb the potentially 3 million more refugees from Idlib, in addition to the over 4 million it has already absorbed over the past nine years. 

Though nobody - most significantly the people themselves - knows what the fate of Idlib will be, one scenario is a new, unprecedented wave of refugees into Turkey and then into Europe. This is precisely what happened in 2015, during the so-called "refugee crisis" that began in that year, when millions of refugees, the majority of them Syrians, attempted to make it to the lands of plenty. 

It was at this point that the term "refugee crisis" began to be used, but this terminology would have you believe that the richest countries on earth somehow cannot deal with the flow of refugees and asylum seekers. The reality is that they don't want to deal with them - since 2015, Europe, and the western world, have been caught in what can only be described as a racist meltdown. 

This meltdown continues until this day. In fact, the conditions of it have become solidified into a set of official and unofficial policies that govern Europe's borders, with the sole purpose of keeping the continent as white and Christian as possible. Europe is the richest continent on earth, and it doesn't want to share that wealth with outsiders. 

It was in this anti-humanitarian spirit that that the defining image of the era was that of Aylan Shenu, a four-year-old Syrian boy lying face down in the sand of a Turkish beach, his drowned little body having washed up on Turkish shores after his boat capsized as his desperate family tried to escape to Europe. 

The message from the EU is that there would not be any 'bridge to Europe', but rather the unscalable walls of Fortress Europe

Aylan, along with his five-year-old brother and mother, as well as nine other refugees died. Shenu's story is a snapshot of the savagery of the Syrian genocide and the "European front" of this genocide.. 

The refugee-makers, namely Assad-Iran-Russia and IS, are obviously the main evil, but the indifference of the so-called civilised world to the plight of these people has provided an additional injustice - they have augmented the evil.

You might have expected the cruel poignancy of the image of Aylan to shake Europe to the core, and spur it into humanitarian action, but in 2015 he was just one of 427 recorded deaths of refugees in the Mediterranean – the real number is thought to be significantly greater, with over 1,000 souls missing. 

Far from Aylan's death shaming Europe into a response, Europe reacted by initiating Operation Triton, the focus of which was to cut rescue services for refugees in the Mediterranean. 

Frontex, the EU's border and coast guard agency refocused efforts from facilitating the safety of refugees, to deterring them from reaching Europe's shores at all - a policy that led to what has been termed a genocide by neglect.

This murderous anti-refugee policy was matched by the rise of the far-right in Europe as electoral and even governing forces along with the will of centrist and liberal parties, to all-too-willingly appease them.

The message from the EU is that there would not be any "bridge to Europe", but rather the unscalable walls of Fortress Europe - both literally and in terms of the cold monster of European bureaucracy that fuels an industrial machine of deportation to countries where people face deadly persecution.

Few outside of political and humanitarian activist circles, will know the name Moria. Situated on the Greek island of Lesbos, this is Europe's largest refugee camp, with an estimated 21,000 inhabitants. Its capacity was only meant to "house" 3,100 people, with tens of thousands of refugees spilling out into the surrounding olive groves in makeshift tents.

One doctor who served there could only describe it as "a living hell" - illness is rife, doctors are scarce, and there's just one toilet for every 200 residents. A rationing system reminiscent of concentration camps and ghettos from Europe's dark past expects people to survive on 1.5 litres of water per day, for both hydration and cooking, assuming you can withstand the heat or cold in the huge distribution lines.

Moria is not monstrous because it has to be, but rather because this is what Europe wants it to be

As with any prison, never mind a prison full of vulnerable people, many of whom suffer from PTSD, Moria's inhabitants rise up against their unjust detention and the horrific living conditions enforced upon them by the EU. 

Moria is not monstrous because it has to be, but rather because this is what Europe wants it to be. The squalor, the misery and the painful limbo all indicate one unified message from the EU to largely Muslim, non-white refugees: not welcome.  

And the spirit of Moria haunts the whole of Europe and it finds form in the manner in which EU governments have treated refugees and asylum seekers who have made their way to the continent. 

In the Balkans, there have been detailed reports compiled by human rights groups of authorities using torture, abuse and criminal practices during push backs and detentions of refugees, including beatings, the stealing of personal possessions, police dog attacks and electrocution.

It's hardly difficult to see how fascism has arisen out of this. 

The accepted logic often casts the very presence of refugees as the cause of the rise of the far-right in Europe, but it's actually that governments are carrying out far-right policies shaped by the far-right.

The 'crisis' is not caused by refugees - it is entirely caused by a Europe that is too greedy

The virulently anti-refugee regime of Viktor Orban in Hungary, far from being an exception to Europe, became the pioneer of European anti-refugee policy.

The "crisis" is not caused by refugees - it is entirely caused by a Europe that is too greedy, too racist and too scared to help refugees. 

It's with this in mind that one wonders in genuine consternation how the Europe of Moria and of industrial, cruel, inhumane deportation and false promises might deal with the fall of Idlib, which could potentially see up to 3 million people on the move.

It was riding a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment, 
including the notorious Muslim ban, that Donald Trump rose to power in the US. 

Similarly, the triumph of Brexit was in part down to the visceral racism of the Leave campaign, exploiting the entirely non-existent "threat" of Syrian refugees to stoke fear and hatred.

We've seen France narrowly escape a Le Pen presidency, Italy governed by the neo-fascist La Lega, while the AfD in Germany continues to rise and has already forced Merkel into abandoning and reversing Germany's "safe haven" policy for Syrian refugees, the one glimmer of progress in a Europe poisoned by anti-refugee racism.

If these cataclysmic triumphs of illiberalism characterised Europe and the first world's response to the refugees, I'm not sure "civilisation" in the West, as precarious as it already is, will survive the fall of Idlib.


Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

 

 

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