Can Nations Set Aside Self Interest to Solve the Refugee Crisis?

Europe is struggling with a refugee crisis the likes of which it has not seen since World War 2. Images of drowned children haunt anyone with a conscience.

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Yet, hand wringing will not solve this crisis. Nor, will finger pointing. As European countries debate how many refugees to accept, there is a shocking lack of effort to solve the root cause: war and unstable governments, the worst case of which is in Syria.

There are over 4 million Syrian refugees, which does not include those displaced within Syria, the vast majority of whom are migrating to Turkey, where the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has budgeted over $320 million to aid Turkey with this crisis, approximately 75% of all UNHCR aid to Europe in 2015.

We have seen this before as wars always cause desperate people to flee their homes. Providing safe passage and refuge are important, but ultimately, these are band-aids, as the refugees will continue to escape their war torn lands as long as their homes remain unsafe.

Towards the end of the 20th Century, Europe grappled with the Balkan crisis, while witnessing the slaughter of many innocent civilians. After much delay, NATO ultimately intervened to stop the slaughter in Kosovo. The question now is what lessons were learned from that intervention and whether they have any application in Syria.

The stated grounds for the NATO Kosovo intervention were humanitarian. While there will always be arguments about whether the intervention was purely humanitarian. most analysts conclude that despite possible mixed motives, it was ultimately the humanitarian impulse that forced the US to join NATO with a strong response.

Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter implore:

all Members [to] pledge themselves to take joint action in cooperation with the Organization for the achievement of…universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

Accordingly, as well stated by the non-partisan Wilson Centerthe UN Charter not only permits intervention on humanitarian grounds, in cases of gross and systemic human rights abuses against civilians, it requires it. As the Wilson Center further points out, humanitarian motives and grounds, also require humanitarian means of intervention. The NATO air bombing in Kosovo is subject to question about whether it was humanitarian. While the resulting end to the immediate crisis was certainly humanitarian, the aftermath which included revenge killings raises legitimate concerns.

What can be learned from this approach to resolve the Syrian crisis which to date, has pitted Iranian and Russian support for the ruthless Assad regime, against an ineffective and scattered effort by the US and others to support so-called moderate rebels, leaving ISIS free to wreak havoc, death, rape and destruction in the resulting void?

It has been clear for too long, that without a cohesive worldwide response, the Syrian civil war will rage on, and the resulting humanitarian crisis will only continue. The Syrian civil war has so many factions that one commentator called for,

A solution akin to the one that ended the long-running civil war in neighbouring Lebanon: a shotgun wedding and delicate balancing of diverging sectarian and political interests, in addition to possible self-rule but with no territorial break up.

In the end, the world’s most powerful nations must ultimately realize that it is in their self interest to come together to solve the problem. Just as Britain, the US and the Soviet Union figured out how put aside their differences in order join together to defeat Hitler, so must NATO, Russia and Iran put aside their legitimate differences and come together to resolve the Syrian crisis. As long as they fail to do so, the refugee crisis will continue to fester and dead children will continue to wash ashore.

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For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.