2015 exposed the truth of children drowning in Greece, of frozen families walking thousands of miles and of the squalid conditions of camps. 2016 should be a time to talk more about, and demand, solutions to the refugee crisis.
The only voices we seem to hear from are from the extreme right and left, both equally delusional in their worldview. One side naively demand that we hand out a million passports to strangers, the other side is ignorant enough to believe that's actually happening.
So what is happening? Well actually nothing at all. Literally nothing. Having gracefully decided that processing asylum claims is not her responsibility, Europe is instead engaged in a brilliant game of snakes and ladders, watching old women and babies crawl their way across a continent in the hope that somehow they will spread around enough so that no one will notice. Some of the countries even set time limits for them to reach the other side whilst the destination countries simultaneously construct barbed wire fences for their arrival.
No one has a clue where they will end up but that works for now because the more time they spend walking, the less time our institutions have to spend abiding that awkward 1951 Refugee Convention written in the wake of The Holocaust. In the end though, the refugees are still there hanging around, only now they've wound up at a series of bottlenecks; Idomeni, Dunkirk, Calais.
We then blame them for being there, as if they had a plethora of options along their journey. As though Hungarians were lining the streets holding out passport forms, job advertisements and giving up their houses for good measure. And in the meantime NGOs are tanking millions more man-hours and euros following people on the move, especially children, attempting to prevent them from dying.
The only solutions that have been deemed worthy of a chat in Parliament was bombing IS targets in Syria. Again left and right were deluded. It will neither create a million new terrorists nor destroy ISIS. In the minds of the right someone had finally claimed they had an answer. For the left, they had a scapegoat for all the pain and suffering. Benn made a speech and it sounded historic. In reality we've all forgotten it already. It was merely a distraction to the main issue of 1 million people fleeing terror, currently floating around in Europe and another ten million waiting in the wings displaced in the Middle East.
Yes we need a solution in Syria but it's a proxy war with NATO and Saudi on one side and Russia and Iran on the other. No one seriously believes that is going to get wrapped up in a hurry. Like it or not, what happens in Syria is deemed immensely important to our government and we are heavily invested in trying to control its outcome, and not for the purposes of countering terrorism. Our government must rightly focus on national strategic interests but the refugees are the victims in our political game. Its for the public alone to take an interest in their survival and execute pressure to ensure that they do.
UNHCR stats show 1 out of every 3 are children and that 86% have come from, in order of size, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. Those 86% have all experienced death and destruction to varying degrees. They also don't end up in northern Europe because they wouldn't stop earlier but because they couldn't. They have no right to work in Turkey. In Greece they get a permit to travel for 2 weeks. Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary barely let them through let alone stay. And by the time they get to Austria they have no option but to spread out, to Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Holland. A minuscule 1% have chosen to try the UK and are waiting at Calais and Dunkirk. Whilst these other nations do their part, the UK is yet to process a single asylum claim from the camps, despite the presence of hundreds of unaccompanied minors and families from agreed conflict zones.
They only need protection, not passports.
It was that photo, of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi that gave enormous impetus to the relief effort. Volunteers and aid doubled overnight and many lives have been saved since. When the public takes enough interest and commits to engaging in the politics of reason rather than the politics of fear, the policy solutions that already exist stand a chance of being executed. The European Union and UNHCR have ample tools, processes and knowledge to keep people safe but they have neither the government funding nor the authority. They are paralysed by a lack of political support.
So keep reading, form an opinion, tell your friends, sign petitions, volunteer, donate, whatever you like. Until the silent majority speaks up, it will be left to a handful of volunteers to keep those kids alive.