Not all refugees are created equal
Survival mode. Texas National Guard soldiers aid residents in heavily flooded areas from the storms of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. (Reuters)
2017/09/17 Issue: 123 Page: 11
The Arab Weekly
Not all refugees are created equal nor do all refugees receive the same treatment.
The world watched in disbelief as millions of Americans became temporary refugees as they tried to remain one step ahead of Harvey and Irma, the killer storms that unleashed nature’s fury on parts of Texas and Florida.
So ferocious were the storms that the mayor of one Florida town labelled Irma a “nuclear hurricane.” The news coverage on American television, which documented the event minute by minute, featured the various networks sending their top anchors to report standing ridiculously under heavy rain and dangerously in the middle of the actual storms.
Watching the rescuers caring not only for the people affected by the storms but also for their cats and dogs, I could not help but compare the neat and orderly evacuation of the Americans to the chaotic, disorganised and archaic experience of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing man-made disasters. No government assistance here for the people, let alone for their pets.
Footage from various Caribbean islands after the hurricanes’ passage, however, is reminiscent of the images of Syrian cities’ victims of the ongoing civil war. St. Kitts and parts of Puerto Rico mirrored images of Aleppo, Homs and Raqqa without the weapons.
The US government as well as state, county and city authorities were well organised and prepared to handle the back-to-back disasters, unlike the authorities in Syria and Iraq who mostly left the refugees to fend for themselves. Were it not for the actions of international relief agencies, these refugees would have had almost no help. In the US, President Donald Trump made two separate visits to the stricken areas and spent a few minutes handing out care packages, food and water. This is a stark contrast to the picture in Syria.
“The world must do more to help Syrian refugee children get an education,” actress Priyanka Chopra said after chatting and joking with young refugees at an after-school centre in Jordan’s capital, Amman.
As has been pointed out numerous times in these very pages, education is the key to resolving the crises plaguing the Middle East. Be it a political conflict or a religious-based dispute, the root of the turmoil affecting the Middle East inevitably remains the same: Lack of education.
As Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev likes to say, the solution to the problems facing militant Islam are three words: “education, education and education.”
“Individuals can make a difference with donations if governments don’t step up,” said Chopra, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and Bollywood and Hollywood star.
“We need to take it into our own hands because this is our world and we only have one of it,” Chopra told the Associated Press at the end of her first day in Jordan.
In addition to the army of federal, state, county and city rescue workers helping the Texan refugees from Hurricane Harvey, hundreds of individuals from as far away as California went to the affected areas with their boats, volunteering to help with search-and-rescue operations in the Houston area. In Florida, the US Navy dispatched aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (a helicopter carrier) and amphibious transport dock ship USS New York to a position where it could provide humanitarian relief support to federal, state and local authorities if requested.
After the fierce division brought about by Trump’s policies, Americans were suddenly united by the disaster wreaked by the hurricanes. It was no longer a Texan or Floridan problem, but a national issue.
In Jordan, Chopra urged the world to take a similar approach to the disaster in Syria.
“I think the world needs to understand that this is not just a Syrian refugee crisis, it’s a humanitarian crisis,” said the Bollywood/ Hollywood actress.
The civil war in Syria has affected hundreds of thousands of children who without sufficient support “can be an entire generation of kids that could turn to extremism because they have not gotten an education,” Chopra said.
Some 5 million Syrians have fled civil war in their homeland since 2011, with many settling in nearby Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The influx has overburdened host countries, especially their educational systems. More than half a million Syrian refugee children of school age — or one-third of the total — are not enrolled in school or informal education in the host countries. The United Nations and international aid agencies supporting the refugees routinely face large funding gaps.
The UN child welfare agency supports more than 200 refugee education centres in Jordan. Given their inadequate level of care and education, which is sometimes religiously biased, the next generation of extremists is already guaranteed.