War is the problem, not refugees

A wounded Syrian girl at a makeshift hospital in the rebel-held area of Douma, east of the capital Damascus, following shelling and air raids by Syrian government forces on Aug. 22, 2015.

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You can be sure of this: The vast majority of the millions of people who have left Syria wish they never had to. And the vast majority — whether they are languishing in Lebanese refugee camps or resettling in Germany — wish they could go back.

But they can't. There is still a war on at home. And it's getting worse, which means more and more Syrians are going to be running for their lives in the coming months and, probably, years.

As jets belonging to the United States and an always-growing list of allies bomb northern Syria and much of Iraq in their effort to crush the Islamic State (an effort that has not been as decisive as its military architects surely had hoped), Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remains in power, and continues to fight a confusing panoply of rebel groups.

The al-Nusra Front, one of those rebel groups, which is also aligned with Al Qaeda, just took over a major airbase in northern Syria and now fully controls much of Idlib province. It's hard to see that as a good thing.

The outside world isn't helping the situation, in most cases. Russia is as we speak setting up a forward operating base in the coastal town of Latakia in support of Assad. And Turkey, which mostly sat out the first four years of the war (with the exception of leaving its borders suspiciously porous), is now bombing not only the Islamic State but also the Kurds, who have proven some of the most effective fighters against the Islamic State on the ground.

Meanwhile, according to those who are still bothering to estimate, somewhere between 220,000 and 330,000 Syrians have been killed. And millions, as you've heard, have fled.


Of course, Syrians are not the only refugees out there in the world. There are millions of refugees from Afghanistan, for instance, which has endured three decades of conflict. And there are huge populations of refugees from Iraq, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Colombia, China, Burundi, Myanmar, Bosnia, Angola, Pakistan, Serbia, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Sudan, the West Bank, Gaza, Yemen, Vietnam. Shall we go on?

Somalis account for one of the largest populations of refugees. Somalia suffered through decades of civil war, then famine, then the rise of an Islamist insurgency. Many Somalis fled across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, where life was much, much better.

But that was then. Times have changed.

First Yemen's ineffectual and corrupt dictator was ousted by popular protests during the Arab Spring. Then an internationally brokered deal ushered in a new government, which many Yemenis didn't support. Then a long-simmering rebel group called the Houthis swooped in and earlier this year captured the capital. The Houthis are Shiite and aligned with Iran. Iran is Saudi Arabia's arch nemesis. So Saudi launched airstrikes against the rebel group in March, then a ground war.

Now all those Somalis who fled their war-worn home to Yemen are fleeing back to Somalia — refugees twice-over.

“When all my parents were killed in 1997, I had no option but to escape to a neighboring country,” one of them told GlobalPost. “Life had been good in Yemen before the war started. I had my own hotel business but the place was destroyed by airstrikes.”


Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said today that his country must act “with our heads, as well as with our hearts,” when he announced that his country would resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees in Australia and begin launching airstrikes in Syria. Presumably it is his heart that is allowing the refugees to come and his head that is launching airstrikes on their country.

The whole thing feels a little disingenuous. Abbott has overseen one of the most brutal migrant policies the world has seen in recent years. The policy is actually pretty simple. Refugees who arrive in Australian waters by boat are met by the Australian military, which promptly tows the boats back out to sea in the hope that they will land somewhere else. Many of these people drown or starve before they do. This creative solution has since been adopted by many of Australia's neighbors, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

That's not good for the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority that lives in Myanmar and is one of the most persecuted groups in the world. GlobalPost Senior Correspondent Patrick Winn writes more about them here.