Slogans were plentiful at last month’s humanitarian summit in Istanbul. There was hope too, that the meeting would serve as a compelling prelude to the UN conference on refugees and migrants scheduled for New York in September. But all the hosts could muster – after three years of consultations with about 27,000 people across 153 countries – were vague commitments towards intentionally broad “core” basic principles.
The imminent problem was clear to every participant. The current rate of movement of people across borders is a consequence of globalisation and the unequal distribution of wealth and stability. With about 80 per cent of the world’s population expected to live in conflict-prone areas over the next decade, global strife will continue to outpace the humanitarian systems in place to deal with them.
The consultations that led to the Istanbul summit – the result of 400 written submissions over several years – prescribe reform of the humanitarian sector and changes to international law to cope with the current crises. From addressing displacement induced by climate change to the intensifying wrath of conflicts that permeate boundaries of nation states, the approaches that were put in place after the Second World War are clearly in need of a major overhaul.
But it was hard not to feel the folly of sitting at the closing ceremony of the summit last month. As the historical gateway between Asia and Europe since the time of Byzantium, Istanbul was a fitting venue to address the rapid migration flows from different directions that have triggered today’s global refugee crisis. Turkey is home to the world’s largest refugee population, with more than 2.8 million Syrian men, women and children. Anywhere up to 500,000 Syrians live in Istanbul alone.
But the mounting accusations against Turkey of shooting at civilians fleeing attacks by the Syrian regime and ISIL, made the venue less comfortable. If Turkey’s plans to build “smart” shooting towers at its borders are implemented, it will have concocted a ruthless and dystopian approach to mitigating migration.
Efforts to control migration have proved unwieldy, expensive and ineffective, with few deportations from Greece and even fewer admissions into the EU under the one-in-one-out deal. Dismayed humanitarian workers report an uneasy impasse as refugees biding their time to embark on boats have gone into hiding for fear of being detained. Others choosing alternate routes, including women and children, have disappeared, becoming even easier prey for traffickers.
With Italy eclipsing Greece with the number of arrivals over April and May, a centrally organised response system – one that minimises deaths at sea, offers humane reception to those arriving on the shores of Europe and, better yet, options of applying for asylum without having to undertake dangerous crossings – warranted explicit acknowledgement at the summit.
The 130 bodies that washed up on the Libyan coast in the days following the summit and the more than 1,040 deaths over the last two weeks should put us all to shame. Yet the declarations coming from the summit’s panels were vague, non-committal and underwhelming.
Gathering governmental and non-governmental organisation on a common platform is not without its merits. But by failing to delineate clear roles and responsibilities and skirting the basic acknowledgement that the most powerful participants have the most influence, the summit failed to address the elephants in the room that have made themselves at home.
For the UN to deliver aid during conflict, states must adhere to international humanitarian laws. For aid to be effective, the UN must become more efficient with its on-ground operations.
Several organisations have monitored these failings, but almost none are explicitly discussed. Doing so would mean pointing to specific violations by states and assessing the failures of the UN. It is equally important to acknowledge that the failures of the UN-led humanitarian system are rooted in its subordinate role to the nation-states that are its primary patrons.
The off-the-record conversations in Istanbul between sectors and among people who would otherwise not meet could turn out to be a worthy investment, especially as the trajectory is now pointing towards the New York summit.
Making use of the conversations that emanated in Istanbul will require getting into finer details, from managing borders and establishing early warning systems to analysing successful cases of the integration of refugee populations through freedom of movement.
Change must take place at all levels of the international humanitarian system with improving emergency response as the first tenet of that transformation. The overhaul must be all encompassing: from the UN’s lack of accountability to the bureaucratic mazes of governments and the gaps between the visions emanating from the headquarters of humanitarian organisations and the realities on the ground.
With the Mediterranean crossings by migrants climbing towards an ever-higher apex, the timing of the summit and the lead up to New York is in fact propitious. But, how do we best harness this sense of urgency? The only way forward is to hit the reset button.
SUNDAY, APR 24, 2016 03:00 PM EDT
By: DANIEL DENVIR
Original article can be found here:
As many as 500 migrants died just last week, yet the world’s powers pretend this calamity still isn’t their problem
After days of rumored disaster, United Nations officials now estimate that as many as 500 migrants died earlier this month in the Mediterranean after their ship capsized en route from Libya to Italy. Many appear to be Somalis.
“The flow consists almost exclusively of people from sub-Saharan Africa,” The Guardian reports. “Syrians have yet to reach Libya following the closure of the Greek route, but migration specialists expect them to try again from Libya in increasing numbers later in the year.”
The tragedy won’t make headlines for long, and fresh ones are sure to follow. Sub-Saharan Africans, who may represent the bulk of last week’s mass drowning, never won much sympathy to begin with. Now Europe, under siege from an insurgent far right, is trying to slam the door shut on Syrians as well: Since recent attacks in France, Belgium, and San Bernardino, tenuous solidarity for ISIS victims has been replaced by a conviction that refugees are in fact ISIS.
Never mind that attacks have mostly been carried out by European-born men. Rather than take a look in a mirror, France has imposed a draconian and alienating state of emergency, and Europe has cut a deal with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, exchanging cash and political legitimacy in return for accepting refugees forcefully returned from Greece in contravention of international and European law.
Arrivals on Greek shores have plummeted since the accord’s enactment. But both desperation and aspiration find a way, and the lack of a regular process for migrants and refugees only encourages people to take irregular and dangerous routes. And so people die.
“You patrol the seas better, then land routes are exploited,” Nigar Göksel, a Turkey analyst at International Crisis Group, told Frontline. “Or the price of smuggling goes up, or different ways of creating fake documents are discovered. Smugglers often win out in these circumstances.”
Or, they might die in Syria.
Turkey, according to Human Rights Watch, has all but closed its border with Syriasince March 2015, even as refugees stuck inside the country flee camps threatened by ISIS and the Assad regime. Recently, Turkish border police allegedly shot at refugees fleeing ISIS advances. According to an Amnesty International report, investigations on “Turkey’s southern border provinces suggests that Turkish authorities have been rounding up and expelling groups of around 100 Syrian men, women and children to Syria on a near-daily basis since mid-January.”
Disturbingly, Turkey’s adherence to international refugee law is explicitly limited to those fleeing European conflicts.
“The EU deal is based on the deceptive premise that all returned people are safe in Turkey, when the facts say otherwise,” said Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch, in what seems like a significant understatement.
Europe has pledged to accept one Syrian refugee from Turkey for every one sent back. The accord is purportedly meant to discourage refugees from making a dangerous sea crossing. But perversely, the number of Syrian refugees that Europe accepts under the deal is tied to the number who irregularly cross and are then sent back to Turkey.
What’s worse, this not-so-magnanimous deal does not even extend to other refugees, including, remarkably, Afghans, thousands of whom are already stuck in Turkey with access to neither refugee camps nor legal work. Turkey allegedly deported about 30 Afghan asylum seekers to Kabul “just hours after” the accord with Europe was signed, according to Amnesty International. People from Iraq aren’t covered either. Europe is distinguishing not only between refugees and economic migrants but between those refugees who are deserving and those who are not. And what do these distinctions even mean when it comes to people willing to risk death?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after years of migrants dying at sea, finally became a limited-purpose hero last year, dubbed “compassionate mother” by grateful refugees after resettling many of the more than one million that crossed into Europe. Anti-migrant sentiment and violence cut that solidarity short soon thereafter, and countries including Austria and Macedonia closed their borders. And so Turkey is now the supposed save haven.
Europe’s priority is not saving lives. The Italian Mare Nostrum sea rescue mission, which according to the Italian government saved the lives of roughly 166,000 in 2014, was shut down under heavy criticism from Germany. Europe condemns smugglers, and has even pondered military operations against them. But they ignore the fact that their military and economic policies have for centuries created the condition of their possibility.
* * *
The accord is purportedly about safety but the notion that refugees belong in Turkey and not Europe is simply a racist one: They are mostly Muslims like in Turkey, and not Christians like in Europe. Ironically, it is Turkey’s Muslim population and its terrible human rights record that have long frustrated its desired ascension to the European Union. Now, Europe has proven willing to trade quite a lot to Turkey, where the human rights situation has rapidly deteriorated in recent years, for the sake of ethno-national homogeneity: Last week, after a satirist dared mock Erdogan, Merkel green-lighted a prosecution, under a very illiberal and very old German law, on behalf of the thin-skinned and authoritarian leader.
It’s often said that there’s a migrant crisis in Europe. In reality, the crisis in Europe is mostly a political one. According to the UN Refugee Agency, just “slightly more than 10 percent of those who have fled the conflict [in Syria are] seeking safety in Europe.” Today, there are roughly 4,841,807 registered Syrian refugees worldwide. By April 2014, nearly one in five people in tiny, constantly-destabilized Lebanon were already Syrian refugees.
Merkel’s initial response was laudable. But her brutal response to Europe’s financial crisis had helped lay the groundwork for today’s meanness, rallying the continent’s worst instincts to break Greece’s uprising against austerity. In turn, that austerity further worsened the living conditions of European workers—making them all the more susceptible to right-wing demagogues.
The U.S., of course, has behaved even more horribly, accepting roughly 3,100 total Syrian refugees since 2011, as of a Boston Globe overview published in late March. That included just about 1,200 of the mere 10,000 refugees that President Obama had pledged to settle by this October. The leading Republican presidential candidate, of course, wants to bar Muslims from the country.
There is something profoundly stupid but predictable about countries that invaded Iraq and colonized Africa, that foster a global system that exploits the poor for the benefit of the rich, that supported the overthrow of the Somalia’s government and carved up the Middle East into a despotic jigsaw puzzle now wondering just how the world came to be such a mess. Europe is clinging to a vision of the nation-state that colonialism has always made impossible. The hypocrisy is the same for economic migrants: People migrate from Africa fleeing poverty and war, but yes, also just to seek a better life. Moralizing about whether those people are deserving is beside the point, because a global economy entails a global labor market and migration. The trajectory of capital, like that of violence, boomerangs.
Shutting the doors on refugees and migrants requires a profound lack of the basic human solidarity required by most any existing moral system that I’m aware of. This cruelty, however, is also premised upon the idea that it’s not our problem. The belief that one, and one’s nation, are innocent of whatever crime has sent these people trekking across continents and risking their lives at sea.
The West, however, has been eager to wage wars in the name of human rights. “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries,” President Obama bragged in 2011 over NATO’s intervention in Libya. “The United States of America is different.”
The humans in whose name these wars have been fought are now being deported back toward war zones. They are dying at sea in enormous numbers. They live or are detained in squalid camps and are abused by security forces.
The European Union was “founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail.”
It’s now clear that the moral posturing of the West is fraudulent.
This is of course not to suggest that other places are of better moral quality. Far from it: consider the Thai junta returning Chinese dissidents to China, the Egyptian military dictatorship’s complicity in Israel’s blockade of Gaza, the Gulf states’ systematic exploitation of guest workers, or the alleged abuses committed by Mexican agents, on behalf of the United States, against Central Americans fleeing gangster terror. The world is in large part run by mean, venal and greedy people. But the next time the West invokes its moral superiority remember that they have already failed humanity’s most basic test.
Daniel Denvir is a writer at Salon covering criminal justice, policing, education, inequality and politics.
You can follow him at Twitter @DanielDenvir.
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