By Sultan Barakat and Steven A. Zyck
Half of Syria’s population has been forced to flee its homes and is displaced either within Syria’s war-ravaged territory or abroad. As is now widely acknowledged, Europe shamefully attempted — after spending decades lecturing countries in the Middle East on refugee rights — to shirk its responsibility to help those refugees even once they arrived tired, hungry and scared.
But thanks to pressure from social media, the press, celebrities and aid agencies, that situation has begun to change. The European Commission is proposing to accept 120,000 Syrian refugees over the coming two years, with most going to places like Germany, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Truthfully, Europe will probably need to quietly take far more refugees than that in the coming months and years.
It will be critical for the EU — and other refugee-accepting countries like the United States, Canada and Australia — not only to pay attention to the numbers of refugees but also to their needs and varied circumstances. After all, many of those reaching Europe are destitute and weary, but so are the hundreds of thousands of sick and elderly refugees in places like Jordan and Lebanon who are unable to make the journey and whose suffering goes unheralded by the media and celebrity YouTube videos.
Specific provisions must be put in place to help refugees with chronic health conditions and those requiring major medical treatments to reach Europe and gain the help they need. The United Nations, in partnership with refugee-accepting nations, should step in to ensure that refugee families headed by women with large numbers of young children — which also may be unable to make it to Europe — are also enabled to reach more prosperous host countries.
Of course all of this attention to refugees in Europe must not distract from a more basic fact: that nearly all Syrian refugees are not in Hungary or Germany but, instead, are in countries that neighbor Syria. Many aid workers and refugees are concerned that the renewed focus on Europe will pull attention and resources away from countries like Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which together host more than 4 million displaced Syrians.