Archive for October, 2015

EARLY last month, images of a three-year-old drowned Syrian boy named Aylan on a Turkish beach took the world by storm, shaking up the public conscience of the so-called civilised West and compelling their leaders to act in the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.

The earth-shaking and heart-breaking images of the boy pictured face-down, have been compared to the 1972 Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl running naked, suffering agonising burns from a napalm attack towards the end of the Vietnam War. Many have also attributed this image of the girl to a major swing in public opinion in the US and the rest of the Western world against the war.

Aylan’s five-year-old brother and his mother were also among the dead. Only his father named Kurdi, 40, survived, after the 15-foot boat ferrying them from the Turkish beach resort of Bodrum to Greece capsized shortly before dawn on Sept 2. The family fled to Turkey as refugees from Syria three years ago and as they were unable to make a living in Turkey, they decided to make the journey to Europe via Greece, for a better life.

That was all Kurdi wanted for his family, a better and decent life. Who among us would have done anything different?

The tear-jerking account of what happened after the boat capsized and how he tried to save his two children who died in his arms and subsequently failed to save his wife, is a grave indictment on humanity and its failure to look after its own kind. It’s a gross dereliction of responsibility of the “powers that be” which forced many innocent people into harm and to endure perilous journeys.

The social media and internet have helped in no small way by spreading the images of the boy around the world and triggering the global response of horror, anger and sadness. Since then, Germany has led the way in opening its doors to hundreds of thousands of the millions or so, mostly Muslim refugees into mostly Christian Europe.

Sure, many rightwing racists and bigots such as those in Hungary and the other Eastern European countries are opposed to such a move to allow the refugees of another ethnicity into their own countries but public pressure has forced many leaders to do the right thing.

While the refugee crisis represents a gross failure of humanity, the positive response and efforts from Europe and other countries friendly to the intake of refugees, signify hope for humanity that we are one and the same despite our cultural differences.

As civilised human beings, we must do everything we can to help the less fortunate. We must expose and oppose the evil forces that have caused the refugees crisis in the first place and that are opposing the refugee settlement programme.

Countries willing to take in the refugees should do so on the principle of “from each according to its ability and its past and present obligations” and not shun their responsibility and close the doors to the less fortunate. Differences in ethnicity must never be a reason for accepting or rejecting refugees.

In September 2011, I wrote in my column about the barbarity of the Assad regime and how the West and Russia were adopting double standard in dealing with Syria compared to Iraq and Libya due to their vested geopolitical and economic interests and why they were allowing the status quo to remain, despite the situation there being so untenable. And sure enough, this has allowed a new and dangerous breed of extremists, in the form of IS, to fully exploit the situation to become such a vile and barbaric movement today.

IS, with its self-professed Caliphate regime in parts of Syria and Iraq, is now the biggest terror and extremist threat the world has ever seen, even far worse than Al-Qaeda.

The IS monster has developed not only into a regional destabilising and security threat but a global threat to peace and multi-culturalism. The major powers of the UN should put aside their differences, work together and devote their military assets, firepower and educational resources in destroying the IS and its growing tentacles.

The sectarian strife in Syria and Iraq should also serve as a wake-up call to civil society in Malaysia. The Syrian boy could have been Malaysian, if we were to allow unscrupulous politicians and extremists to exploit, for example, the current leadership crisis and turn it into an ethnic and sectarian strife.

Who dare say that, if we are not careful and allow sectarian extremists to become influential here, a similar violent conflict would not happen in Malaysia, which would then force many poorer people here to leave, endure risky journeys and become refugees in other countries?

We have our fair share of the refugee problem, especially those from Myanmar and Bangladesh, which is often linked to human trafficking. The discovery of death camps used for these refugees in the border with Thailand has also shocked the public here and spurred governments in the region to do more to address the problem of human trafficking.

Whenever there is a problem of people who wish to escape from war, conflict, oppression or abject poverty of their home countries, there will always be unscrupulous syndicates ready to take advantage of the misery of these people and to purportedly “assist” these people to relocate at a huge price.

All countries need to have new and comprehensive laws and policies to deal with refugees and human traffickers, treating the former with sympathy and compassion and the latter as despicable terrorists who deserve the harshest penalties.

The twin and related problems of refugees and human trafficking require a co-ordinated and sustained national, regional and global approach to ensure justice, fair play and survival for the less fortunate.

Having compassion and helping the less fortunate when we are to do so, is what makes us “human” and a pre-requisite for having a conscience and “soul”. Otherwise, we don’t qualify to be truly humans or civilised.

The writer, the CEO of a think-tank and strategic consultancy firm, believes that humans everywhere on Earth are like parts of the whole human body, where the suffering of innocent humans in other countries would ultimately also hurt the entire body. Comments: kktan@thesundaily.com

Advertisements