by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS—The almost Biblical scenes of mass humanity surging through Europe from the Balkans to the Baltic have created jarring images as we see a mass movement of displaced Syrians and Iraqis flooding into what they see as a Promised Land, the European Union. Thus as civil conflicts rage between secular regimes and Islamic radicals, destroying ancient lands with contemporary barbarism, the human “collateral damage” is measured in both the dead and the displaced.
While the UN General Assembly highlighted the refugee issue during the recent debate, few solutions emerged from the political platitudes which echoed in the cavernous hall. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon conceded, “We face the biggest refugee and migration crisis since WWII.”
One reason for the widening Syrian crisis rests in an absence of credible American power; allowing for a power vacuum as the Obama Administration rhetorically eggs on resistance to Assad’s rule but then does pitifully little to seriously change the military balance between Assad’s authoritarian regime and what’s morphed into a far worse gaggle of Islamic opposition groups ranging from Al Nusra to Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
As if to redress if not jolt the balance, hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin met with President Barack Obama at the UN, he then blindsided the U.S. by unleashing air attacks on Islamic State and Free Syrian Army targets in Syria. Putin’s plans are both cynical and calculating; support the Assad regime, and military intervention to break the power and appeal of Islamic State, whose foreign fighters include the International Brigades of thousands of radicalized Russian Muslims as well as Europeans fighting the jihad in Syria today and perhaps at some point Russia tomorrow.
After enduring the civil war for more than four years, and suffering over 250,000 killed so far, nearly half of Syria’s entire population is now either displaced internally or have become refugees in neighboring lands such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Turkey hosts half of the four million Syrian refugees.
It’s from this tragic and seething refugee pool in Turkey where Syrians languish, and gain the false hopes of the migrants being stoked by smugglers who have turned peoples dreams into a vainglorious march to the EU starting first through Greece, then into the Balkans, until reaching the EU’s outer-frontier in Hungary.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban spoke bluntly to a UN meeting; “This is not a refugee crisis; this is a mass migration movement.” He warned that with such large numbers of largely undocumented Syrians, Iraqis, and Afghans flooding into the EU, “Europe will be destabilized.”
Orban also alluded to many of the migrants being “victims of human trafficking.”
Speaking to correspondents, Hungary’s Foreign Minister Peter Szijarto stated that the EU must “gain control of its border starting in Greece,” the point where many migrants pour in from Turkey. Szijarto stated that last year, Hungary became a transit point for 41,000 migrants; this year until October the number as 275,000. The numbers were nearly 8,000 daily, until a border fence nearly stopped the tide.
Given Hungary’s small population of 10 million versus the USA population being approximately 32 times larger, these numbers would translate into 240,000 largely undocumented migrants coming into the USA daily. The hypothetical number for the year would be nearly 9 million!
While the majority of Syrians wish to settle in Germany or Sweden, there’s a virtually limitless supply of people from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, who wish to get to Europe for political and economic reasons. Speaking separately Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, “The huge number of refugees is a test of historic proportions.” Germany has already accepted 721,000 refugees in the first nine months of 2015.
Turkey’s government has offered a deal whereby the EU would pay large sums to improve the camps in Turkey so that the desire to flee into Europe will lessen. As part of a wider EU effort, Turkey would strive to prevent further “irregular departures of refugees and migrants from Turkey to the EU; prevent losses of lives at sea by improved search and rescue operations, and to step up the fight against criminal networks involved in the smuggling of migrants.”
This is a realistic and prudent fist step. Ban Ki Moon called for managed migration; “We must create more safe and legal channels for refugees.” Yet, he added forcefully, “We must join forces to eradicate ruthless criminal networks of human traffickers and smugglers.”
Ban added, “Of course, the best solution for refugees is voluntarily returning home, in dignified and safe conditions.” If only peace would allow for this option.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.