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Collapse of Afghanistan calls back to similar past refugee crises

CM 19/09/2021


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The crisis in Afghanistan, with the rapid collapse of the government in August, has led to large numbers of Afghans once again packing their things and seeking to flee their country. This is not a new experience. Afghans have been forced into refugee camps for decades, going back to the Soviet invasion in the 1980s and the destruction of the country from civil war in the 1990s. 
“Experts say a majority of Afghans fleeing their homes will likely remain in Afghanistan. Hundreds of thousands of these internally displaced people had already fled amid the Taliban’s latest offensive, which began in May. Many lack access to health care and sufficient food and shelter,” the Council on Foreign Relations notes. Nevertheless, the Afghan refugee issue is now adding to the already strained relations between states over the fate of many other millions of refugees, particularly from Syria.  
Whenever large numbers of refugees or asylum seekers, or economic migrants, show up in a new country it is bound to cause tension. In our time the number of displaced people and refugees has reached record levels. UNHCR says there are some 82.4 million people who have been forced from their homes and 26.4 million refugees. 48 million people are displaced internally. This is the highest number in recent history since people began recording the number of refugees and displaced people. As a percent of world’s population it may not be unprecedented, but in terms of actual numbers it is massive. 

The last decade has brought with it these unprecedented movements of people due to continuing war in places like Syria. Refugees are often referred to in biblical and economic terms: A flood, a torrent, and language like that. This image of people “flooding” the borders has brought with it a desire by many countries to wall themselves off from their neighbors. Turkey has completed a new border wall with Iran, a massive concrete wall that is supposed to keep Afghans and others out. It also has a wall with Syria, to keep Syrians out. Turkey would say, to answer critics of its walls, that it already hosts millions of Syrians and Afghans, it doesn’t have room for more. Greece, which borders Turkey in Europe, is also building a wall. Israel has a massive fence along the border with Egypt. Everywhere it seems today there are walls and fences.  
This is understandable because of the chaos caused in recent years by massive refugee movements and the way they have been used by various countries against one another, as well as the way some have become radicalized. Consider, for instance, that whereas ISIS exploded onto the scene in Syria in 2014, causing a genocide, it not only attracted refugees but then sought to infiltrate refugee movements to Europe in 2015 to spread terror.  WHEN DONALD TRUMP was running for office, and after he was surprisingly elected in 2016, one key issue of his administration was reducing the number of refugees and migrants to the US. The analysis of polling website fivethirtyeight.com notes that “support for accepting Muslim refugees from Syria increased in The Economist/YouGovsurveys from 38% in November 2015 to 52% in April 2017. Quinnipiac University Poll showed a similar 12-point increase in support for admitting Syrian refugees over the same 16-month time period (43% to 55% respectively); and the share of Americans saying the “US has a responsibility to accept Syrian refugees” in Pew Research Center polling rose from 40% in October 2016 to 47% in February 2017.” 
When it comes to Afghans, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has said there was “really no place” for Afghan refugees in the European Union. He argued recently that they needed to find “a solution that allows them to stay in Afghanistan.” He met with counterparts in Austria and Slovakia to discuss the matter in early September. 
He also sounded a word of caution. In the past Turkey has used refugees as a weapon to blackmail the European Union into paying Turkey to keep refugees from going to Europe. As Euro News notes, “In 2016, the EU struck a migration deal with Turkey, where Ankara pledged to prevent millions of mostly Syrian refugees from fleeing to Europe in exchange for funding to help it house more than three million immigrants.” That deal meant that Ankara received billions of dollars and essentially controlled migration policy to Europe. Europe has outsourced migration policy not only to Turkey but also to North African countries. It has, for instance, engaged in quiet deals in Libya to try to keep refugees, who often ride flimsy boats, away.  
How do you keep the refugees away? You hire torturers and brutes to detain them. That is exactly what has happened in north Africa. People have been enslaved, raped, kept in camps, extorted of money and killed. The same happened in Sinai for years when traffickers realized they could bring refugees and migrants from places like Eritrea and dump them in the desert after demanding payments from families. In many cases the women were raped and men and women tortured, screaming into phones, to get their families to pay. This was a trade the Bedouin in Sinai did, until the borders were closed and the refugees had nowhere to go. Probably thousands or tens of thousands were killed in the process. We will never know how many the deserts and seas have swallowed, perhaps tens of thousands who died on the way to Europe in recent years. What we know about those numbers is only scant. 
“Deaths recorded on the three main Mediterranean Sea routes through 2019 are at 1,283 individuals – or about 44% of the 2,299 deaths confirmed during the same period in 2018. The Mediterranean has claimed the lives of at least 19,164 migrants since 2014,” says the International Organization for Migration. 
TO GIVE a snapshot of the overwhelming challenge, consider that in 2019 a total of 110,699 people arrived by sea to Europe in an undocumented manner, meaning they were migrants or refugees. These are just the numbers that are known, since these are the ones who were picked up and found. Certainly there may be many more, maybe another 100,000 or more that arrived and no one intercepted them. The numbers change over time. In 2014 a total of 170,100 people were recorded to have reached Italy, while only 43,518 came to Greece. The ones arriving in Italy mostly come from Africa or North Africa. Those coming to Greece tend to Syrians and Afghans. 
In 2015 when the massive Syrian refugee crisis broke in Europe, egged on by Germany’s Angela Merkel promising them support, a total of 853,650 people reached Greece by boat. It is believed that more than a million crossed to Greece and made their way via Macedonia to Serbia and then to Hungary. The deal with Turkey cut those numbers by 90%. To do that Turkey demanded concessions beyond money. Ankara’s foreign policy became more aggressive. By 2016 Turkey had invaded northern Syria near Manbij and by 2017 it was working with jihadists in Idlib. In early 2018 Turkey invaded and ethnically cleansed Kurds from Afrin. In 2019 Turkey, with permission from the Trump administration, invaded eastern Syria, killing more Kurds. This was the blank check Ankara got from the US and EU. Stop the refugees and you can kill and ethnically cleanse Syrian Kurds, was the message Ankara got. Turkey also began to threaten and bully Greece, sending warships and gas exploration vessels to harass the Greeks. This almost led to conflict in 2020, and brought Israel, Greece and Cyprus closer.  
The Syrian refugee issue continues to affect the region. With millions displaced inside Syria and millions still living in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon, Syrian refugees and displaced people constitute a large number of the region’s displaced. Many will not go home because they report that the Syrian regime forcibly recruits men for the army and tortures and “disappears” some people. 
Syrian refugees walk as they carry containers at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 12, 2021 (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS)Syrian refugees walk as they carry containers at an informal tented settlement in the Bekaa valley, Lebanon March 12, 2021 (credit: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS) 
I SAW the face of the desperate Syrian and Afghan refugees in trips I took in 2015 to eastern Europe and then later to Jordan. In Europe I hired a car in Thesaloniki and drove north to the Greek border with what is now called North Macedonia. There the Greek border police were forming lines of refugees, mostly Syrians, and the refugees were crossing a bridge to North Macedonia where they were met by military and police. Then they begged their way onto buses heading to Serbia. It was organized chaos. No one checked documents, no one cared who these people were. 
While the bridge was used for the refugees, a highway nearby had actual border checks and a border crossing. The bridge was the undocumented crossing. The goal of Greece and the authorities from North Macedonia and Serbia was to keep the people moving north. So long as they kept moving there would be no violence or problems. These countries are themselves poor and have no way to house or help all these refugees. Anyway, the people wanted to get to Germany or northern Europe.   
I slept in my car and walked with the refugees during several days that September in 2015. I was there on the Hungarian border early one morning in the fog when the authorities completed a new fence to keep the migrants out. Until then the people had been making their way along old abandoned railroad tracks, heading north. It was understandable why countries like Hungary wanted to close their borders, rather than accept demands from the EU that they host an untold number of people. On the other hand, it was also understandable why the people wanted to go through Hungary to Germany where they believed they would be welcomed. 
What was less understandable was why the European Union, with its billions in budgets had not developed a border force to fingerprint and process and document the millions of people entering Europe. With modern technology the use of biometrics and facial scans and other methods, they can document migrants and provide temporary IDs for them, so that countries know who is crossing their border. The fact that collectively European countries passed the buck from one to another with no checks was surprising. Here I was in the fall of 2015 on these borders and I could cross legally from one to another, or mix in with refugees and become an undocumented person, among the masses. It makes little sense why the wealthiest countries in the world cannot control their borders.  
Today the situation of Syrians, Afghans and others remains unclear. Turkey continues to use migrants as a threat to Greece every time it wants to wring concessions from Europe. Ankara has also recruited thousands of Syrians displaced by war to fight as mercenaries in Libya, Azerbaijan and other places. This means that Syrians have become tools in Turkey for foreign policy. In some cases they have been resettled by Turkey to change the demography of Kurdish areas, with Ankara purposely settling Arabs and Turkmen in the place where Kurds and Yazidis once lived. 
On the other hand, in places like Jordan, the Syrians have become a difficult challenge. Jordan welcomed them as brothers and some of the Syrians from southern Syria were from tribes that exist in northern Jordan. But the refugees were denied work in all but menial labor. When they tried to go back they were often persecuted by the Assad regime. Today Jordan wants to have amicable relations with Damascus, and this may involve energy and trade. This means that solving the issue of long-term Syrian refugees in Jordan is important. Unlike in Turkey, the Syrians can’t go anywhere else from Jordan.  FOR THE Assad regime, the flight of many Syrians is a blessing in disguise. Prior to the civil war and rebellion in 2011 there was a massive influx of people to cities in Syria and also environmental changes had led to tensions in these urban areas. The war led many Sunni Arab Syrians to be displaced, and demographically this suits the Syrian regime, which is backed by Iran and which has often been led by the Alawite minority. Reducing the population of Sunni Arabs in Syria or moving them to Jordan and under Turkish control is a way for the regime to set back the demographic clock to the 1980s. 
Similarly, it enables an impoverished Syrian regime to manage fewer people. On the negative side, for the regime, is that it means the conscription army has fewer young men to rely on to fight. This hollowed-out regime is now ripe for the plucking by Iranian militias who have infiltrated and set up shop. It is no surprise that where Syrians have fled, there are now Iranian tentacles moving in along the Euphrates River and toward southern Syria and Damascus. In the long term then, the refugees will have their impact through the demographic changes and new alliances formed in the last decade. 
It remains to be seen if a new mass migration of Afghans will have a similar effect.  

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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