There is turbulence in the eurozone and its disquieting genesis lies in the protracted Syrian civil war, some 750 miles to the east.
As Europe’s demography and ethnicity are poised to be transformed by the relentless influx of those fleeing the conflict to seek refuge on the Continent, the international community needs to hammer out a resolution of the Syrian crisis as much as it will need to cope with the surging wave of asylum-seekers.
With the deadly impasse lasting nearly five years, the United States and Russia are now seeking to outmaneuver each other in gaining an upper hand on the crisis. The U.S.-led coalition’s perceived ineffectiveness against both the authoritarian Bashar Assad regime in Syria and the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadi militants who now control half of that country finally emboldened Russia to move in briskly on Sept. 30 in its first military operation beyond the boundaries of the former Soviet Union since the end of the Cold War.
Starting with aerial attacks against rebel forces ranged against Mr. Assad, Russia is now purportedly targeting ISIS encampments and already claims to have smashed the control and logistic network of the terrorist organization. With the 2,410 U.S. airstrikes against ISIS-held areas since September 2014 seen to have had little impact, President Vladimir Putin is rallying other countries to join a Russia-led coordination center that will share intelligence between his country’s armed forces and Syria, Iran and Iraq. While he too seeks Mr. Assad’s ouster, President Obama claims the U.S.-led coalition comprises 60 countries.
The two superpowers will be loath to join the other’s coalition — to avoid submitting to the other’s command — and will also be hesitant to articulate their respective strategies in Syria. While the Americans see an end to the conflict through regime change in Syria, Moscow sees a solution in the annihilation of Mr. Assad’s opponents.
The conflict in Syria began in January 2011 as an uprising against the autocratic rule of Mr. Assad and escalated into a full-blown civil war between protesters and presidential loyalists as well as between loyalists and ISIS. More than 220,000 Syrians have died in the internecine warfare that has displaced 7.4 million people and sparked the mass exodus of 4 million others.
As distraught migrants flood into Europe from war-torn Syria and occasionally from other conflict zones in Ukraine, Iraq, Eritrea, Yemen, Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa, an alarmed Europe is striving for a consensus on measures that can best contain this calamity.
Challenged by the worst refugee crisis since the World War II, leaders of the 28-member European Union (EU) have pledged $1.1 billion for international agencies assisting refugees at camps near their home countries. The EU has also approved a plan to relocate 120,000 migrants across Europe, on top of the resettlement of 40,000 refugees who have arrived in Greece and Italy.
The eventual costs of identifying refugees and integrating them socially, linguistically and culturally within Europe, educating their children, and providing them with jobs, medical aid and housing will be staggering. The International Organization for Migration estimates a record 522,124 people have crossed over into Europe this year. Syrians constituted more than 181,710 of them, the largest single refugee group. While the U.S. has resettled 140,000 Iraqi refugees in the six years since 2009, Secretary of State John Kerry says the number of new refugees arriving in America will rise to 100,000 in 2017.
As the international security arbiter, the 15-member U.N. Security Council should not have allowed the Syrian conflict to fester so long. It has, however, been thwarted by Russia and China, two of its influential permanent members, who have all along safeguarded their ally Mr. Assad, by vetoing resolutions on four occasions to deflect action against his government.
Finding refuge in Europe would disadvantage the asylum-seekers in the long term as they would be better placed to be assimilated in countries with which they are more ethnically, culturally, linguistically and traditionally aligned. An Amnesty International report notes that Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt have hitherto together hosted 3.8 million refugees from Syria — a country with a population of 22.5 million and a territory measuring 115,000 square miles — with the first three countries having shouldered most of the responsibility. As a result, one in every five people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee.
There has been no offer whatsoever to resettle any Syrian refugees by the prosperous six-member bloc of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Arab countries like Syria and comprising Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman and Bahrain. With an average per capita Gross National Income (GNI) of $68,702, these affluent countries with huge expatriate populations have a cumulative population of 48.6 million living across a total geographical area straddling 1.5 million square miles, making a population density of 32.4 persons per square mile. In contrast, with per capita GNI of $35,672, almost half that of the GCC’s, the EU has six times the population density with a combined population of 508.2 million inhabiting 2.6 million square miles.
The U.N. should appeal to the GCC governments on humanitarian grounds to accept refugees, though they are not signatories of the U.N.’s 1951 Refugee Convention, the key international legal document relating to refugee protection.
Russia and China are two other countries that should share the refugee burden, having impeded efforts toward resolving the Syrian crisis. While China is the world’s most populous country with 1.39 billion inhabitants, it is also the world’s fourth-largest, with a land area of nearly 6 million square miles, making for a population density of 232 people per square mile. Russia is by far the world’s largest country, with an area of 10.6 million square miles, but a population of just 142.8 million and a density of 13.5.
While the world has stood by as the Syrian disaster has unfolded, the resultant humanitarian crisis now compels a more definitive action to resolve it.
• Sarosh Bana is executive editor of Business India.