EU Summit on Refugee Crisis Will Define the Europe We Are Living In

It is perhaps worth asking what kind of a world we want to live in, and what values we want Europe to stand for. We have to find it in ourselves to take up our moral responsibility and care for those in need, and to insist the same of our leaders.

A few years ago, I confronted one of the toughest tasks an aid worker can ever face: informing a desperate family that aid has run out.

The setting for this unfortunate encounter for me was in a camp in Lebanon. In front of me stood a Syrian refugee family weary from living in a tent on a poor diet for months on end. How would I explain that even the most basic of assistance my organisation was offering was now stopping?

I still remember the look of disbelief and despair on their faces as they contemplated the implications of my sad news to their already tumultuous lives.

As I went away, I remember praying that I never have to have such conversation again; and wishing that no one in the world be put in similar circumstance - especially of course, the one of need akin to the Syrian families'. Too many children are growing up more familiar with bombs than with books.

Fast forward to today, and I am saddened to report that the situation in the Middle East countries where Syrian and Iraq families have sort refuge has become worse. This fourth year of the Syria conflict is the deadliest so far. In this conflict more than 200,000 people have been killed and over 11m displaced internally and abroad, with numbers continuing to rise. Humanitarian needs stand at a staggering $7.5bn, of which only a third is funded. Over half of refugees that have fled Syria are children. To compounding the situation, the massive refugee crisis has now grown and traveled beyond the Middle East and is knocking at our front doors as refugees attempt to reach the safe shores of Europe.

Yet the refugees are finding that the seemingly safe havens in Europe are closing their doors in their faces in the most unfortunate of ways. Doors closed in their faces not because Europe cannot assist vulnerable and desperate people fleeing brutal conflicts, but because political leaders fail to agree on a finding a long-term solution to assist refugees and commit to bringing peace and economic transformation to the countries from which they have fled. Recent weeks have seen steps in the right direction, including public marches across Europe, but far more needs to be done.

That one of the richest regions of the world can watch as children from war-zones die on its shores is simply scandalous.

As you read this post today (14 September 2015), EU interior and justice ministers are meeting in Brussels are meeting in an effort to find concrete measures to cope with the escalating refugee crisis. We need them to agree on a humane solution and we need it fast as aid agencies - such as World Vision which began distributing aid to refugees in Serbia last week - cannot cope with the burden alone. Those of us who live in abundance must dare to care for those with too little.

At World Vision we urge the European leaders to agree on a long-term, international plan that emphasises burden-sharing and overrides policies that were meant for more conventional times. It is imperative that the needs of children are put at the centre and that Europe leans towards the direction of compassion in its response.

Let us remember that as big as the challenges we face in Europe may be, the humanitarian needs here are only a fraction of those in Syria and its bordering countries. 94% of Syrian refugees are in the neighbouring countries such as Lebanon and Jordan. As such, the international community shouldn't neglect its commitments to support these countries. Unless governments massively increase funding for the humanitarian work in the Middle East hundreds of thousands more Syrians are likely to flee to Europe. Syrians want to remain in the region and close to home but with food rations running down, with their children not in school, and with no sign of peace on the horizon, they are left with little choice.

By providing basic essentials like food, water and shelter as well as economic support to host communities, huge positive differences are made especially as populations in towns sometimes are doubling in size.

We also know that while aid will save lives we need a long term peaceful solution to the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. A dual approach of assistance is thus needed with increased efforts both in Europe and in places from where refugees have fled.

It is perhaps worth asking what kind of a world we want to live in, and what values we want Europe to stand for. We have to find it in ourselves to take up our moral responsibility and care for those in need, and to insist the same of our leaders. Otherwise we will at some point look back at this crisis and wonder why we left so many children alone.

Surely we can do better than this.


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