Syrian refugees coming ashore on the Greek island of Lesbos
Academics are calling it Europe’s “migrant” crisis, and some sympathetic media are terming it as the continent’s “refugee” crisis, both focusing on the “problem” faced by Europe. Lost in these analyses is the suffering of nearly 600,000 people, some of them Christian, who, fleeing war, persecution and oppression, have crossed the dangerous Mediterranean Sea to reach a region that is unwilling to give them asylum.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that at least 3,100 people have lost their lives in the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year, due to bad weather conditions and overcrowded vessels of smugglers and human traffickers they used to cross the sea. And many of the tens of thousands, including women and children, who have made it to Europe are being detained without food or water. Others are being abused or exploited, as they remain without shelter or hope.
The governments of the frontline states of Greece and Italy as well as the European Union are faced with an unusual situation, not knowing what to do with the people who are arriving not only from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan and Iraq.
More than 450,000 people have arrived by sea to Greece, of which at least 277,899 are from Syria, 76,620 from Afghanistan, 21,552 from Iraq, and 14,323 from Pakistan. In Italy, the number of arrivals is at least 137,313, of which 35,938 are from Eritrea, 17,886 from Nigeria, 10,050 from Somalia, 8,370 from Sudan, and 7,072 from Syria.
How they are treated depends on how we see them. In international law, which provides for assistance and protection for those fleeing persecution or conflict, an asylum seeker is someone whose claims are yet to be proven, after which they can be called refugee. An economic migrant, on the other hand, is someone who arrives in a foreign land for economic gain.
Given the nationalities of these people, they all appear to be legitimate asylum seekers, and must be treated accordingly.
Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, is mindlessly killing civilians in Syria amid a bloody civil war against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and has captured large territories in Iraq. The targeted killings and persecution of Christians in Syria and Iraq are nothing less than genocide. More than 700,000 of Syria’s Christian population of 1.1 million have been displaced due to attacks by ISIS. And in Iraq, at least 125,000 Christians have fled their homes in the Nineveh Plains to the autonomous Kurdistan region.
Afghans are fleeing attacks in the wake of insurgencies by the Taliban and Islamic State’s local affiliate. Eritreans are running away from forced lifelong military conscripts by their authoritarian government.
Nigerians fear for their lives amid increasing attacks by the Islamist terror group Boko Haram, which has killed thousands of Christians and bombed churches.
In Somalia, the Islamist terror group al-Shabaab is a major threat to the lives of civilians. In north-west Pakistan, insurgencies have killed tens of thousands of people. Civil wars in Sudan’s Darfur and Kordofan regions have also killed numerous civilians.
What’s worse, none of these countries are likely to have peace in the near future, and, therefore, the number of arrivals in Europe is only going to increase, especially of Christians from across the Middle East and Yazidis from Iraq – the main targets among civilians.
However, as Amnesty International has noted, “Ignoring the reasons pushing people to the EU such as conflict and human rights violations, EU leaders have focused on blocking their entry with abusive border control measures, as well as through practices or legislation which effectively deny them the right to seek asylum.”
The Dublin Regulation, a European Union law, states that it is the responsibility of entry-point countries for “migrants,” requiring asylum seekers to remain in the first European country they enter to apply for asylum. Those who cross over to other countries in the block can be deported back to the country they originally entered.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed that 120,000 asylum seekers be relocated across EU nations, on top of the relocation of 40,000 refugees in Greece and Italy. This is just a fraction of the total number of asylum seekers and the proposal has some other flaws, but the premise on which this proposal is based needs to be replicated by world leaders.
Just as this proposal seeks to ease pressure on the frontline EU countries and even as the European Union needs to do much more, world leaders could make efforts to accept asylum seekers in their countries to show solidarity with both Europe and asylum seekers.
U.S. Congress should also move a pending bill, H.R. 1568, the “Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act of 2015,” which could address the need for saving the lives of Christians in Iraq and Syria.
The bill mandates the Secretary of State to establish or use existing refugee processing mechanisms in Iraq and in other countries through which aliens from Iraq or Syria who have been persecuted, or have a credible fear of being persecuted, by ISIL, or a similar group, based on gender or religious or ethnic membership may apply directly to the United States Refugee Admissions Program for priority 2 refugee admission to the United States.
World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) sponsors this WEA-RLC Research & Analysis Report to help individuals and groups pray for and act on religious liberty issues around the world. WEA has a consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
This report was researched and written by Fernando Perez, and moderated by the WEA-RLC Executive Director, Godfrey Yogarajah. It can be used for distribution or publication with attribution to WEA-RLC.