This question has been agitating the minds of the discerning around the world ever since the images of a three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed ashore on a Turkish beach went viral on social media. The boy was one of many Syrian nationals fleeing their war-torn country in search of durable peace. Who is responsible for his death? Or was it murder? Is President Bashar al-Assad of Syria to be blamed for it? Or should it be the Islamic State? Or even the United States and its European, Arab and Gulf allies? Did the international community as a whole fail him?
What is even more unfortunate is that although a civil war has been raging on in Syria for over four years now, its consequences were driven home only recently when the images of Alan Kurdi stirred a world’s conscience like never before. Incidentally, Alan was not alone. Two Iraqi children — 12-yearold girl Zainab and her eight-year-old brother Haidar — travelling on the same boat as Alan, perished, too.
Iraqis are among the thousands of refugees fleeing to Europe. According to the International Organisation for Migration, an estimated 9,000 Iraqi nationals had reached Greece this year alone. Alarmingly, about 3,000 people have died this year while undertaking the perilous journey to the European mainland (up about 25 percent from last year) and three-fourths of those deaths have occurred in the Mediterranean. The situation is worse compounded by reports of human traffickers and economic migrants using the refugee crisis to push people into Europe.
For his part, Bashar al-Assad has sought to attribute the refugee and migrant crisis to the West’s support for the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. He has warned the European Union that more refugees and migrants can be expected to try to enter Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has endeared herself to the refugees and migrants by being welcoming of them but as the events of the past week suggest, Germany has had to introduce temporary border controls with Austria in order to cope with the influx of refugees and migrants. German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere has said that his country had reached “the limit of its capabilities” and called on the other European Union members to do more.
Instead of quibbling over semantics (whether the people fleeing to Europe are refugees or migrants), the international community would do well to set aside their differences or prejudices and mount a concerted attempt to bring succour to the people who are risking it all to move to safer places. A common but differentiated responsibility might be the need of the hour.