The Syrian refugee crisis has dominated headlines and political conversations since the disturbing image of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy, drowned and washed ashore on Turkey’s coastline.
Since then, the world has put immense focus on Syria — exposing the racially, ethnically and religiously-influenced horrors and maltreatment of Syrian refugees as well as their life-threatening journey as they arrive in Europe. The most unnerving aspect of the discussion surrounding the Syrian refugees is that it has created a rhetoric where the world views the crisis as synonymous with the current, much larger global migrant crisis: It is not.
Finding a solution to address the influx of refugees coming into Europe and America is daunting. So daunting, there has been growing popularity of xenophobic populism in Europe and an extreme right wing in the U.S. However, we cannot hope to find a viable solution when we still have yet to fully acknowledge the magnitude of the current global migrant crisis.
Without a doubt, the Syrian refugee crisis is now the world’s largest, with “Eurostat” finding an estimated 250,000 people traveling to the EU from Oct. 2014 to Oct. 2015, but it doesn’t mean it is the only one. In fact, we are currently experiencing the largest forced migration of people since World War II.
In a 2015 report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Dec. 2014, nearly 19.4 million displaced people, originally from areas in the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, brought the estimated total global refugee population to fifty million people.
Many current refugees are fleeing from consequences of civil war. This has been seen in places like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, but war is not the only cause of violence. For example, in the past year, extreme violence between major crime networks within Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras has created a new wave of Latino refugees seeking shelter in the U.S.
Some are fleeing political persecution and chronic poverty which has been seen in countries such as Eritrea, Kosovo and Albania. Then there are those escaping state-sponsored genocide in places like Myanmar where the Rohingya, the country’s ethnic Muslim minority, are believed to be in the last stages of ethnic cleansing.
The last major refugee migration spanned from 1960 to 2000 and was due to both the multiple anti-colonial movements in Africa and Asia as well as people fleeing the Soviet Union.
According to a study done by the Washington Post, these migration patterns displaced a minimum of 46.5 million. The current refugee cycle began in 2000 and 16 years later, the number of refugees seeking asylum throughout the world since then has hit an estimated 50 million people. In the span of 16 years we have surpassed the number of refugees who were fleeing over a period of four decades.
These numbers demonstrate that we are in the midst of a massive, unprecedented global shift in world populations and it extends far beyond just one country or one region.
As an increasingly globalized world, it’s our responsibility not fall into a well intentioned but none-the-less destructive trap of putting all our focus on one group while failing to even acknowledge the existence of refugees from other regions of the world.
This pattern creates a hierarchy where some refugees are granted the basic right of humanization and given opportunities to adjust in their new countries while other refugees from the rest of the world are excluded completely.
In a recent viral video, an Afghan man is recorded desperately yelling, “Syrian yes, Afghan No. Why Afghan no? ” towards Macedonian border patrol. Macedonia announced Feb. 21 that the government would refuse to accept any Afghan refugees crossing over from Greece.
The man’s pleas succinctly and uncomfortably addresses the tangible issue of prioritizing one ethnic group over another. They are all fighting the same dehumanization and violence and are on the same life-threatening trip. Hierarchy creates severe ostracization among an already disenfranchised group and allows abuses towards them to fly under the radar.
My family came to America as Eritrean refugees seeking asylum. From an early age, bringing exposed me to the many, severe risks refugees take in the hope of a better future for themselves and their families. I witnessed the emotional and mental burdens my family carried as they attempted to navigate a society where they are not wanted.
My upbringing made me aware that as dangerous as their journey was, they were driven by a collective goal shared by everyone: to create a better, more stable life for themselves and their families. This same drive is at the core of the current migration crisis, and as long as the option of a better life exists, people all over the world will continue to migrate.
Given the fact that all refugees are driven by the same core instinct to survive and want better, we can not be complacent in humanizing Syrian refugees while also ignoring the rest.
Each person deserves the right to have a full life. So as more and more countries open their borders to Syrians, let’s not fail to remember that we are in the midst of much larger refugee crisis and to solve this issue we have to first begin with realizing the magnitude of what we are facing. So Yes, Syrians deserve asylum — but so does every other refugee, regardless of nationality.
Siona Peterous, Contributing Columnist