Policy, Empathy and the Global Refugee Crisis

Since the beginning of the Arab Spring in 2010, no one would imagine the extent of the profound impact that this revolutionary wave of immigration would have. Individuals who had hoped for democracy and freedom were forced to leave behind their families and try to survive in strange lands with hostile inhabitants. As international organizations were unable to provide sufficient aid to the problem, we experienced the largest refugee wave since WW2.

Syria is currently the major refugee-producing country with 6.6 million Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and over 4.8 million refugees that fled the country. Afghanistan comes second with 1.2 million IDP and 6 million refugees. The main destination of the refugees from Africa and the Middle East was once the European Union until the EU-Turkey deal that came into force in June 2016. Now, the route for Syrian and Afghan refugees is through Turkey to Greece and on to wealthier countries.

Today, Turkey is one of the leading host countries with 2.7 million of refugees within its borders and it’s the main destination for refugees. Pakistan follows second and Iran third. The only route available for refugees from both regions (N. Africa and M. East) is from Libya to Italy. Notably, both the Greek route and the Italian route, known as “death routes,” are the most dangerous because of weather conditions. Primary means of transportation for the refugees from Turkey to Greece and Italy are mostly inflatable boats provided by smugglers. Boats perpetually exceed maximum capacity leading to an inevitable capsize mid-sea leaving passengers helpless. In 2016 alone, 3,448 people were lost in the Mediterranean Sea, and since 2010, 13,250 people lost their lives in both routes.

The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea has become an international issue concerning continents across the globe. It is the largest scale “exodus” since the Second World War affecting several countries on three continents – Asia, Europe, and Africa. International efforts to provide assistance and shelter to the refugees have, unfortunately, not proven successful. Several countries of the European Union closed their borders leaving hundreds of thousands of refugees on the streets in dilapidated forms of shelter. Moreover, NATO as well as Frontex (EU border police), have been incapable of establishing a safe route for refugees at the Greek – Turkish coast. Since NATO’s involvement in 2014, only two NATO frigates have patrolled the Aegean Sea alongside numerous Hellenic Navy and Coast Guard Vessels. Suffering entailed by refugees while in the hands of Turkish smugglers only elevated death tolls. An international response has been in effect since 2012 including the UN, NATO, and other INGOs, but in order to be effective it must include a long-term goal and a precise, detailed plan.

Solving a complex issue such as a refugee crisis is crucially important. It is imperative for international communities to unite and take drastic measures to fight the issue at its root. Seventy years ago, countries were gathered in Lake Success, NY to sign an agreement to end inhumane treatment, war and forceful displacement of people. One would expect that with the technology and means we have today, decades later, such an issue would be easily solved. Instead, people are dying as they strive for a life free of war, presenting a successful failure of International Organizations.


Photo credit: Migrants arrive by boat in Greece. Photo by Ggia via Wikipedia