Refugee Stories

Humans of New York, a photoblog featuring street portraits and interviews, is doing a great job of telling the stories of the refugees trying to reach Europe. As I've noted before, I think the western response to the crisis has been shameful, and the failure to intervene in Syria many years ago a costly mistake. I hope people read these stories and remember their humanity. Here are some quick facts about the refugee crisis, and a map of the main migration routes from Vox. Below is one woman's heart-wrenching story, and I encourage you to read the other stories that can be found on Facebook or the Humans of New York website.

“My husband and I sold everything we had to afford the journey. We worked 15 hours a day in Turkey until we had enough money to leave. The smuggler put 152 of us on a boat. Once we saw the boat, many of us wanted to go back, but he told us that anyone who turned back would not get a refund. We had no choice. Both the lower compartment and the deck were filled with people. Waves began to come into the boat so the captain told everyone to throw their baggage into the sea. In the ocean we hit a rock, but the captain told us not to worry. Water began to come into the boat, but again he told us not to worry. We were in the lower compartment and it began to fill with water. It was too tight to move. Everyone began to scream. We were the last ones to get out alive. My husband pulled me out of the window. In the ocean, he took off his life jacket and gave it to a woman. We swam for as long as possible. After several hours he told me he that he was too tired to swim and that he was going to float on his back and rest. It was so dark we could not see. The waves were high. I could hear him calling me but he got further and further away. Eventually a boat found me. They never found my husband.” (Kos, Greece)

Eyes Closed, Walking into the Abyss

In 2013 John Kerry said "our" response to Assad's use of chemical weapons matters because "if we choose to live in the world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar al-Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity . . . there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will." Since then, the focus has shifted dramatically to ISIS, and many in the west have failed to acknowledge the role of the Assad regime in the crisis. This from the BBC:

IS remains a potent force in Syria and must be countered, but it will not be marching on Damascus anytime soon, contrary to some uninformed fear mongering. Al-Qaeda also poses a pressing and more long-term threat, perhaps more so than has been acknowledged. But at the end of the day, the root cause of the entire Syrian crisis is Assad and his regime . . .

While accommodating Russian and Iranian demands for Assad's survival and potentially even a de facto partition of the country may seem like an attainable objective, this will only prolong and intensify the conflict and will almost certainly spark a jihadist mobilization the like of which the world has never seen.

The vast majority of refugees now entering Europe are fleeing Assad's murder machine, not IS or al-Qaeda. Ever since Syrians took to the streets in March 2011, the Western response has been both feeble and noncommittal, but the world is now in need of real leadership. Unfortunately, it seems our leaders are walking into the abyss with their eyes closed.