Child’s-eye view of the current global refugee ‘problem’


Children, some in the first decade of their lives, put on paper scenes no child should ever have to witness. It is a shocking historical timeline seen through the eyes of children of horrors including the Holocaust, the Algerian war of independence, the war in Syria, genocide in Rwanda and, of course, Afghanistan. One child depicts the brutal beheadings by Daesh in Mosul — nothing is left to the imagination.
Children make up around half of the world’s refugees. They will inevitably form a substantial slice of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Afghans who will manage to escape the horror of Taliban rule. These, too, will be able to mimic their forebears, but who knows what they will paint? The signs of acute ongoing trauma will be all too obvious.
However, refugees, more than ever, are seen as unwanted nuisances for many governments. They are a threat, a burden and potential source of social disorder. The way some politicians talk of them, a plague of locusts would be more welcome. Their dehumanization appears all too often to be deliberate and politically convenient.
As refugee numbers have escalated globally to over 26 million, states have responded not with compassion but with coercive measures. Chief among these has been the construction of vast high-security walls. They do this not only to keep all refugees, as well as migrants, out but also to appeal to electorates that increasingly do not want to let in anyone, even those most in need, such as refugees.
Top of the evidence pile has to be Donald Trump. His whole 2016 presidential run was premised on an “America first” approach that envisaged closed borders and the building of a massive wall on the southern border with Mexico. Trump claimed that walls “save good people from attempting a very dangerous journey from other countries.” He was not the first leader to do so, but once a US president had taken this approach, other states were happy to follow suit.
On the other side of the Atlantic, “Fortress Europe” is no longer an aspiration but a reality. Hungary erected its own barrier during the 2015 refugee influx when around 1.3 migrants entered the EU. Britain voted to leave the EU primarily to cut down on all forms of immigration, with the far-right campaigning with scare stories of millions of Turkish migrants racing to Britain.
Many migrants, including refugees, die while trying to breach these barriers, not least the obstacle that is the Mediterranean. It does not seem to prick the conscience of European public opinion that 930 people have died this year trying to make the central Mediterranean crossing. In fact, European officials pile pressure on the Libyan coast guard to prevent the crossings, while committing less and less resources themselves. Another dangerous crossing is the West Africa to Canary Islands route.
Amid the Afghan crisis of 2021, Greece has been quick off the mark to complete its border wall with Turkey, but has also drafted plans for a floating barrier to prevent refugees and migrants landing on its many islands. Turkey has reinforced its wall with Iran to accompany its existing border wall along the 560-mile frontier with Syria. Its forces are deployed to send refugees back. Pakistan has nearly completed a wall along its border with Afghanistan, but the chances of stemming the exodus are slim.
Yet Afghan refugees will still make the journey. In all likelihood they will not be put off the typical 2,500-mile trek through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to the borders of the EU. If Greece is not possible, many will attempt the longer Balkan route.
EU officials are adamant that they will not open up the bloc’s borders. Just as the EU expected Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to host millions of Syrian refugees, now it will be the turn once again for Pakistan, Iran and Tajikistan.
However, these neighboring countries are angry that they are expected to carry the burden when richer states will barely lift a finger. France and Germany have shown hostile stances to taking in Afghan refugees, while Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said: “We have to deport as long as possible.” EU Commissioner Ylva Julia Margareta Johansson was blunt: “We should not wait until people arrive at the external borders of the EU. This is not a solution. We should prevent people from heading toward the EU through unsafe, irregular and uncontrolled routes run by smugglers.” –AN