by Eric Blair
A gloomy morning in Scotland
The chartered aircraft emerges from the gloom as it sweeps in over the river Clyde its landing lights piercing the driving rain that billows in great sheets across the main runway at Glasgow airport. On board are 100 Syrian refugees, the first of 400 such souls expected to arrive in Scotland, their new home, before Christmas. The majority are Muslim but each experiences his or her Damascus moment as they set foot on Scottish soil at the start of a new life.
Behind them now is everything they have known since birth: the sunshine, familiar streets, beloved relatives, schools, friends, favourite foods and a myriad of memories. Those memories of late have been badly scarred with murderous clashes involving Bashir Al Assad’s forces , western-backed rebel units fighting this despot, and the creeping cancer that is ISIL; the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, those responsible for slaughter on the streets of Paris and for the downing of a Russian aircraft with more than 200 men, women and children on board as it left the Egyptian resort of Sharm El Sheik. We can sit in our comfortable homes throughout the world and watch this bloodshed on television news broadcasts yet remain somewhat divorced from the horror on the ground.
Someone else’s problem
I recall in the early seventies, at the height of ‘the troubles’ in Norther Ireland, how someone would switch channels when a report from Ulster came on the screen. The same is now happening when we see the plight of the thousands of refugees fleeing Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Ethiopia and many other failed states. It is someone else’s problem. We have Christmas coming up, the car needs a service, and the mortgage is hanging over us like the sword of Damocles.
who should pay for refugees? How many are real refugees and not economic migrants?
Then come the inevitable questions; who should pay for refugees? How many are real refugees and not economic migrants? Every now and then a clever photojournalist will concentrate the minds on the refugee crisis. Such was the case of the snapper who shot the pic of 3 year old Syrian boy, Aylan Kurdi, whose little body was washed up on a Turkish beach after he drowned along with his 5 year old brother Galip and his Mum, Rehan. Aylan’s father, Abdullah was the sole survivor of the family’s bid for freedom. Who among you can imagine his anguish? However, public opinion is notoriously fickle, and within weeks of this child’s picture appearing on most newspaper front pages we have returned to questioning the rights of refugees to seek asylum on our shores.
Most people are prepared to put out the Welcome mat for Syrian refugees, but not all by any means. One would imagine the neighbouring Gulf States would be at the forefront in accepting these desperate people but this has proved to be wrong. The six Gulf monarchies are not signatories to the international conventions on refugee rights and statelessness which were established after the Second World War They will, however, donate hundreds of millions of US dollars in aid to the refugees and have pledged to continue to do so.
4 million and counting
Since the conflict erupted in Syria in 2011 more than four million refugees have fled the country. Neighbouring Turkey has given shelter to almost half this number while Jordan and Lebanon have accepted nearly two million Syrians between them. As the flow of migrants/refugees continues to grow Germany has opened its doors to more than 100 thousand people, Sweden about 65 thousand, Britain more than 7 thousand with the promise to accept a total of 20 thousand. Hungary had taken in more than 18 thousand refugees when its government , under pressure from the public, adopted a hard stance against the asylum seekers by erecting a massive razor wire fence along its border. France now has about 7 thousand Syrians scattered across its suburbs, and alarmingly a connection between this influx and the recent slaughter of 129 people in the city centre by so-called ISIL terrorists was raised. ISIL have undoubtedly taken advantage of the exodus from Syria and have attempted, on occasion, to infiltrate its suicide bombers and assassins into the refugee traffic, but this quickly proved problematic. Getting guns and explosives through border checkpoints was too dangerous and with the untold millions in funds for the terrorists coming from Middle Eastern countries they simply travel with false passports and purchase weapons from a network of suppliers based throughout the European Union.
The United States has given more than half a billion dollars in aid to the refugees but opening its doors to them took a dramatic turn recently when half of the country’s state governors refused to resettle anyone from Syria. President Obama described their decision as hysterical and offensive, but the doors to 24 states remain firmly closed to the Syrians. Some Arab countries have given millions in aid, and the United Arab Emirates not only donated generously but opened its doors to more than quarter of a million refugees. Elsewhere in the region it’s a different story: Saudi Arabia, often suspected of giving millions of oil dollars to the terrorists, has refused to accept one Syrian refugee. Likewise Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain warn that refugees are unwelcome.
The Mediterranean is awash with the bodies of many of those trying to escape from Syria. Gangs of what are known in Hong Kong as ‘ snakeheads’ have been operating up and down the Syrian coast charging heavily for those with money enough to pay for the almost suicidal voyage in a fleet of dangerous and overcrowded boats heading for Greece and Italy. British, French and Italian navies are patrolling the waters but all too often they find themselves carrying out a grim recovery operation as opposed to successful rescues.
Back in Scotland the first 100 Syrians are feeling their way into a new life; still a little nervous and unsure of themselves, and wondering how they will handle the forthcoming Scottish winter.