The Syrian refugee crisis, and the difficult solution

Almost everyone has heard of the plight of the Syrian refugees. It is a humanitarian crisis that spans the borders of three continents. Much has already been said and written regarding the scale of this problem – I need not add anymore.

What I do want to write about, is the responses to this problem. To make sure we maintain an objective perspective, let’s first approach this abstractly. Every problem manifests itself in symptoms. But usually, we encounter the symptom before we realise there’s a problem. For example, a car with a failed battery will not be able to start its engine. Yes, we have to deal with the symptom, but you also have to deal with the underlying problem. Jump starting the engine will allow you to drive off this time, but if the battery is not even able to hold a charge, you’re going to encounter the same problem again. You have to address the root cause of the problem.

Going back to the problem of the Syrian refugee crisis. Yes, the millions of refugees need humanitarian help. We should be sending aid in terms of food, medical provisions, shelter and any other form of help a normal society requires. But, that’s just the symptom of a much deeper problem. Let’s not stop there, let’s not neglect the root cause. So far, the public attention is on how refugees need our help. Most of the media articles you read are of the poor refugees, how we should embrace them and welcome them into our countries. Hardly anyone talks about the solution to the underlying problem.

Here is the underlying problem: Syrian people are being massacred or displaced as refugees because there is civil war in Syria. We need to address this issue if we want to prevent more civilians becoming refugees.

Sure, there is plenty of blame being thrown around. Fingers are pointing at ISIS, on Assad, or even on the West for trying to oust Assad. But there is a big difference between blame and solutions. Western countries have had it so good for so long, the ability to formulate pragmatic but tough solutions seems to have disappeared.

We don’t need to just welcome them into other countries – I guarantee you genuine refugees would rather be at home, in their own countries, and live a peaceful life with their families and in their communities. That’s what it means to be a refugee – you’re taking refuge from a horrible situation, you’re not migrating permanently.

What do I think can be done then? Well, the international community should be forcing peace negotiations. That’s first and foremost what the UN is there for. The whole point of forming a global community of participating countries is to be able to encourage peace, foster communication, and finally the collective power to be able to hold individual countries responsible and accountable.

The first step is to get representatives from each faction, from Assad’s regime, from the Arab Spring rebels, and from the ISIS. Get them all together and properly chair peace a negotiation and peace talks. None of this “we do not negotiate with terrorists” nonsense – all these factions already have considerable influence in the region. We cannot just ignore them. Get them together and talk fairly. Don’t let them get away with unreasonable nonsense. The UN is the place where global nations can unite and force these negotiations. Force a peace treaty where everyone compromises fairly and equally.

Well, what if they refuse? What if they insist on violence instead of abiding by treaties? Again, I point you back to the UN. The UN is comprised of 193 member states. This includes the world’s most powerful countries, including the USA, China, Russia, and most of the EU. Whatever disagreements these countries have, I believe they all agree that the crisis in Syria must be dealt with. The collective military might of these member states should be able to enforce peace in the region.

No, I am not in favour of armed intervention. Normally, I hold that countries should sort out their own political problems without needing foreign help. However, the difference is that these factions in Syria are already all armed and causing massive numbers of both armed and civilian casualties. They are causing great harm to humanity, the environment, and to the international community.

The UN needs to act as a temporary world police, under the proviso that member states take no sides in the conflict. The first and foremost objective should be peace, nothing else. The powerful members of the UN will keep each other in check to ensure that no single nation exercises undue influence on the region. Once there is peace, the factions will have no choice but to negotiate.

It might sound like a tautology, but to stop violence, you must first have peace. Violence is like fire. It only begets more violence. The converse is also true, when you enforce a peace, violence is less likely to erupt. It doesn’t completely prevent or even discourage violence, but what it does do, is cut off the chain of violent retaliation on violent retaliation.

I do not draw this conclusion lightly. I fully concede that this project will be very costly indeed. It will be long and drawn out. There will be great economic expenditure from all the nations involved. But what is the price of humanity? Look at how we condemn the nations who readily surrendered to the Axis during WWII. Look at how we celebrate the efforts of those who fought for freedom and for humanity, even three quarters of a century later.

I understand this is far easier said than done. Soldiers need to be humane, to combatants, to civilians, to prisoners of war. If you have to shoot, aim to maim rather than to kill – families would rather have an injured son than a dead one. Have mercy and love for those who are fighting you. Once combatants have been defeated, treat them as humanely, feed them clothe them and show them hospitality so that they might be won over. Give combatants on both sides respite. Try to avoid letting battles be a drawn out into a war of attrition. It will be a hard job, so we need to support those who are making the tough decisions in a difficult environment.

But if we are going to intervene let’s not do it half-heartedly. We’re all in this together. Don’t let two countries go in on their own and let them fail. Let’s learn from our experience of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Don’t let Vietnam happen again. The only ‘successful’ war was one where the world joined together. And remember, that came at very great cost indeed.

What do you think? Are the UN fulfilling their responsibilities, or are they failing to do their job?

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Author: Hoong-Wai

I'm a sinner. I have an interest in economics, philosophy, politics, science, sociology, technology, theology (in alphabetical order). I care about truth and justice. I can be a contrarian.

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