Like most people presumably do, I also feel the anxiety to afford some alleviation of the distress experienced by people in Syria and other countries in conflict.
It is hard to refrain from tendering them the consolation that may be found in us and the international community.
I also acknowledge how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile from the grief and overwhelming loss of the survivors. For all those who have lost someone, perfect relief will not be possible, except with time.
However, nature is dialectical and those of us who care about helping should not be blindly claiming that we simply want to welcome refugees in the Western world without serious considerations about the best approaches.
It would be illusory not to distinguish between what the problem is and what a possible solution is. We need to remove sentimentality and include their best interest as well as the interest of Western civilization when thinking about these solutions.
When the world hears the word refugee it basically hears a call to action. Very rarely do people stop and asks themselves what a refugee is. This causes a reactionary ambiguity to their sense of obligation for these victims.
There are uncomfortable but important questions that need to be asked for these type of dilemmas such as what exactly is it that we owe refugees? Should refugees return once conflicts are over or should they be granted permanent status?
In the leftist West, as it happens in the United States—mainly it seems as an opposition to Donald J. Trump— there seems to be a consensus that a refugee is to be helped regardless of the context of his or her situation. In the Middle East this position causes resentment in the local population of countries absorbing refugees, as the refugees get international attention. This leads to more discrimination and exploitation of these populations by their neighbors.
It is difficult to make sense of these ethically dubious attitudes, although this complex reality makes more sense in the legal realm in which governments are supposed to protect refugees than it does in the social and moral codes.
This doesn't mean that States should act much more differently to promote defensible responses to refugees. It only means they should add some important nuances such as not reaching out to distant refugees and promoting their relocation—especially in the cases where the refugees haven't asked for this type of intervention.
After spending time working in refugee camps in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, as well as visiting and writing from other countries in distress, I can’t help but notice that the Western attitudes towards, not only Syrian refugees but to other people of the world who have been displaced, is a rather abject one. It’s an attitude in which we are literally “killing them with kindness.”
I would like to submit to you that when you think about an individual who is suffering, you feel compassion, but when you think about a group what you feel is pity. Compassion is the capacity to suffer with someone else, while pity is the pretense of suffering for a whole group or social class. The aid we remotely provide to the starving is there to reduce our pity for them, not to alleviate their long-term suffering.
This distinction may seem small but it is an important one. Thus I don't think it is arrogant to state that, when thinking about how to help refugees, we should think about the individuals with compassion and take into account their admission and inclusion.
Although people advocate for the incorporation of refugees into the United States or other Western nations, it should be considered that such demands may actually not be in their best interest. Moving these populations to countries for which they don't have an affinity for may result in the continuation of a different and difficult struggle.
Imagine that Berlin breaks into a civil war, and you are a German citizen forced to escape persecution and are forced to move to a country like Saudi Arabia instead of a country like England. You will have a very difficult time adapting to Saudi society. The example may be an exaggeration but I am sure you can get the point, refugees don't necessarily want to leave their land or their cultural norms.
This affinity cannot be defined in terms of ethnicity or religion, but in terms of cultural and ideological alliances. This is central to prevent persecution, discrimination and the suppression of difference. Being aware of this could preclude the resentment of refugees in hosting countries as well as possibilities of radicalization. This definition is what extreme vetting should mean.
Although the relocation of refugees to Western nations should remain on the agenda, the problem could better be resolved by moving them to countries with which they have an affinity for the culture, language and customs as has been the case with Syrians migrating to Jordan.
In the refugee context there is an often quoted phrase that says that ten refugees is a novelty, one hundred refugees are boring, and a thousand refugees are a menace. One has to ask the questions: How many refugees would it take for people in the West to start seeing them as a menace? And how long do they need to be around before people stop feeling pity for them and mistreat them as invaders?
Diversity cannot be forced. The ability to enjoy difference peacefully can only come from a commitment by a foreign partner who is determined to assist newcomers into assimilation; however, they must be able to non-violently exercise their differences while practicing affinity and identification.
I understand that we cannot be indifferent to a refugee crisis. However, not being indifferent does not mean that we should abolish all differences.
Additionally, while the American Left is promoting the idea of bringing refugees to Western countries, it seem to be dismissing bigger international geopolitical issues and consequences that require immediate attention from the international community and advocates.
This is the case with the strategic use of cross-border population movements as a political and non-military weapon or an instrument of cohesion. This is a non-military orchestration that is deliberately created for the manipulation of economical, political or military target states.
For instance, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has continuously threatened to open the floodgates of migrants into Europe in response to a move to suspend talks on Turkey’s membership in the European Union and in return for over $3 billion in aid.
We have seen this happen in several historical occasions as a destabilizing outflow of engineered migration in Darfur, in the Ukraine, Haiti, Cuba, Kosovo, Libya, and other countries in which people have been used as weapons and as tools at the same time.
Governments as well as the international community need to closely monitor the actors who opportunistically exploit refugees to strategically advance military lines or gather financial aid.
For this reason, it might not always be appropriate to simply let the dispersion of people happen, as this could enhance the control and power of the forces that are oppressing these populations.
However, Western countries do need to consider bringing refugees who are low risk in terms of homeland security and who are vulnerable in their countries and those countries around them.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, the specific barriers that persons with disabilities face to accessing protection and assistance when seeking asylum are yet to be recognized.
This calls for the identification of effective strategies and practices, as well the creation of new intellectual and social models for approaching sustainable development for refugees who are disabled, injured, or elderly. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, persons with disabilities account for 7 to 10% of the world’s population.
The concept of human rights is only a few hundred years old and it continues to be clear that people are not given the rights that they don't fight for. However, it is important to distinguish that not everyone is able to fight for their own rights and protection, and so those who are able, ought to fight for them.
People with physical or mental impairments who are restricted from performing activities of daily living and mobility can't face war alone.
Disabilities such as memory loss, head injuries, orthopedic injuries, amputations, neurological issues, cognitive impairments, dementia, cerebral palsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, brain or spinal cord injuries, epilepsy, muscular dystrophies, spatial awareness, sensory disabilities and autism need our humanitarianism and support.
Immigrants and refugees who have disabilities like autism are often not identified—in many cases because the definition of what makes a disability can be ambiguous, particularly in the camps.
That is only if they somehow managed to escape a conflict zone and weren’t left behind or lost their family members in the conflict.
If an undiagnosed or unidentified disabled person can somehow make it into a refugee camp, he or she may still be excluded from mainstream assistance programs such as food or medicine distributions.
With the absence of social services plus the lack of infrastructure in the camps, they don’t have the same access to sanitation, water, food, and medical supplies or the opportunity to incorporate into social life.
While escaping and seeking asylum they are exposed to physical, sexual and psychological violence, poverty, exploitation, hate, stigmas, discrimination, isolation and unauthorized human trafficking which contributes to the victimization of this hidden population. The disabled and the injured continue to be among the most ignored and vulnerable groups entangled in these issues.
Elderly or disabled refugees with disabilities who make it to Europe also face serious social struggles and of lack of infrastructure. While at the same time there may be no medical specialists available to them, and referrals to external services are hard to acquire. As a result, elderly and disabled refugees can find themselves begging in the streets of Europe and trying to survive its winters.
Persons with disabilities and the elderly have specific needs and their impairments should not be ignored and the denial of reasonable accommodation is a form of discriminatory treatment.
We require a sustainable development of comprehensive analysis of local geographies, regional policies and economic factors in order to influence policies such as the proper training of aid workers to recognize the disabled.
The reconstruction of Syrian life poses several significant challenges to Syrian society and the global community. However, the diaspora of disabled and elderly refugees urges us to focus on a self-reflexive interpretation of social, cultural, linguistic, educational and economic nuances to questions of development about human rights.
Migration related services that are not necessarily related to humanitarian response also are central, such as: managing borders to keep disabled migrants from becoming invisible, transferring of migration paperwork, expediting visa procedures, the immediate stabilization of border areas to protect those escaping, language assistance, emergency counseling services, provision of health services including birth control, referral mechanisms, reconstruction, transition, security, peacebuilding and development.
In terms of relocation to the West, a priority should be given to people with relatives in those nations, thus assuring an easier transition into their assimilation.
In essence, it is imperative to promote the rights of the disabled and the elderly and advocate for their protection while contributing to the global conversation about their future and the future of the nations who assist them.