The death of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian Kurd, sparked international outrage and mass media coverage of the current refugee crisis. A crisis that was virtually unspoken of, even though, it started escalating in 2013. It is now considered to be the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.
Aylan’s family were on their way to Greece from a Turkish town called Bodrum, when their boat capsized and killed another twelve passengers.
Aylan’s five year old brother and his mother, also perished, but his father lived to tell the tale:
“We went into the sea for four minutes and then the captain saw that the waves are so high, so he steered the boat and we were hit immediately. He panicked and dived into the sea and fled. I took over and started steering, the waves were so high the boat flipped. I took my wife in my arms and I realized they were all dead.”
The family originally fled their hometown, Kobani, which has witnessed severe conflict between the Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish forces. Aylan Kurdi’s story is one of many thousands. Every day, people seek safety from their country’s turmoil by risking their lives and those of their families.
The media’s focus is mainly on Europe and often overlooks the fact that the majority of Syrian refugees are displaced in neighbouring nations such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The huge influx of people often puts a lot of strain on these countries’ resources. Relatively small Lebanon, for example, hosts 1.2 million Syrian refugees whilst having a total population of 4.5 million.
Since the Syrian crisis broke out in 2011, 22 camps have been set-up in Turkey. As of 2014, it is estimated that Turkey hosts 1 million refugees, 217 000 of which live in camps.
The Afghanistan and Iraq crisis, along with the Ukraine crisis are also to blame for the refugee crisis. Again, Turkey hosts 81 000 people from Iraq and approximately 10 000 asylum seekers from other countries, including Eritrea. The sheer number of displaced people needs to be effectively managed, especially since numbers will continue to grow – not just in the Middle East but also in Europe.
Growing numbers of people risk their lives, enticed by the European dream, and decide to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes they make it – first entering through Italy, Greece or Spain and then slowly move on to Germany, or Sweden (the two European countries to receive the most refugees). Sometimes they don’t make it and end up dead and washed-up on a beach like Aylan.
In October 2013, efforts were made by the Italian Government to facilitate the refugees’ Sea crossing or rather to reduce the fatality risks by launching the Mare Nostrum Operation. The number of people coming into Italy are huge, in the first half of 2014 over 87 000 people there after crossing the Mediterranean, the two largest groups being from Eritrea and Syria. The Operation has saved over 100 000 people.
Until the instability that these people experience at home is resolved, the numbers will continue to grow and will become increasingly difficult to manage. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concerns regarding barriers that some nations have placed to prevent asylum-seekers and refugees to come in (e.g. Hungary). These barriers don’t persuade people to not come in, it just makes it harder for them and increases the number of casualties.
The largest group of refugees come from Syria where an estimated 220,000 to 300,000 people have died over the escalating war. What’s more there is a lack of identification and protection mechanisms for these people, that are effectively stateless. Approximately 670 000 of them are undocumented, and therefore deprived of basic human rights whilst waiting for the adequate papers confirming their nationality.
If you want to help out but don’t know where to start, this blog has some good tips.