Instead of dealing with the symptoms, maybe we should fight the illness.
By Zachary Sierra, Staff Writer
Forget the Age of Aquarius, we have stumbled into the Age of the Refugee.
In the UNHCR’s (the UN’s refugee agency) Global Trends Report for 2014 it was stated that worldwide displacement was at an all time high, higher even than during WWII. By the end of 2014, the global number of displaced people reached nearly 60 million. With the additional refugees added by the events in Syria, this number has undoubtedly been surpassed. During 2014 an average of 42,500 people a day became refugees, internally displaced, or asylum seekers. This rendered an incredible 1 in 122 people on earth displaced in one way or another. 51 percent of these displaced people are children according to the UNHCR.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, was quoted speaking about this phenomenon, “We are witnessing a paradigm change, an unchecked slide into an era in which the scale of global forced displacement as well as the response required is now clearly dwarfing anything seen before.”
This is perhaps no more prevalent than in the war torn country of Syria, where over 50 percent of the population is displaced in some way or another. The violent conflict between ISIS, Syrian Rebels, and the Syrian Regime has cost an estimated 220,000 people their lives, and forced nearly 12 million people to seek alternatives to their perilous situation.
For over 4 million people that alternative has been seeking refuge throughout the Middle East, as well as in numerous countries within Europe and Asia. These countries offer a bastion of safety and security. A place to mend wounds, fill bellies, and move on with life.
But what if the kindness of strangers comes at a hefty cost?
An article submitted to the World Psychiatric Association by Dinesh Bhugra and Matthew A. Baker in 2005 discusses the psychological impact of radical immigration. One such impact is the concept of cultural bereavement.
M. Eisenbruch of the university of Melbourne defined cultural bereavement as “the experience of the uprooted person … resulting from loss of social structures, cultural values and self-identity: the person continues to live in the past … suffers feelings of guilt over abandoning culture and homeland, feels pain if memories of the past begin to fade, but finds constant images of the past (including traumatic images) intruding into daily life, yearns to complete obligations to the dead, and feels stricken by anxieties, morbid thoughts, and anger that mar the ability to get on with daily life.”
Bhugra and Baker’s posit that maintaining connections to culture can assist in alleviating many of the unpleasant characteristics of this grieving period, however this may prove impossible for Syrians. ISIS has been on a tour of destruction for years, destroying numerous temples and ruins of historical significance as readily as they destroy the lives of the people near them. Were this to continue unabated one would be hard pressed to think of anything that might survive. This destruction of culture, along with the removal of familiar language, geography and social constructs can be devastating for people who have already lost most if not all of their worldly possessions.
Despite the potential downsides, most countries are responding with aid and promises or shelter for refugees. Offering homes and basic supplies, many European countries seem prepared to do whatever necessary to help the refugees within their power.
But is this truly a long term solution? As Guterres mentioned, “It is terrifying that on the one hand there is more and more impunity for those starting conflicts, and on the other there is seeming utter inability of the international community to work together to stop wars and build and preserve peace.”
While the Middle East certainly has a reputation for violence and turmoil, there is nothing wrong with the land. There is nothing wrong with the people. The only issue are the militants that have over run the country. What if instead of supporting the dissemination of the Syrian people across the earth, we instead provided a path which allowed for the survival of the Syrian people? If we truly manage to rescue 12 million people, half of the population of the country, what does that mean for Syria? Do we leave it to the dogs? Do we forget the people there, unable to get out?
What if instead of helping people run, we helped them fight? What if we set up a way for people who wanted to save Syria, to do just that? There are patriots in every country, people that live and die for their homeland. We could take the same money that would be diverted to shelter, food, and medical care in the countries accepting refugees and instead form an international coalition to support the Syrian people in their fight for their homeland. This might even prevent the destruction of a country with nearly 10,000 years of history.
Sometimes you either have to die on your feet or live on your knees. It’s time for Syria to decide which path they want to travel.