by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 7, Shawwal, 1433)
Innocent people are always the victims of wars over which they have no control and towards which they did not contribute. The plight of Syrian refugees once again highlights this reality.
Wars impose terrible costs and produce unforeseen consequences. The victims are often those least able to bear them. For more than 60 years, 4.8 million Palestinians have languished in refugee camps. There are two million Afghan refugees in Pakistan and another million in Iran. They have been in limbo for more than 30 years. And then there are the Kashmiri, Somali, Rohingya, Kurdish and Iraqi refugees, all victims of wars. To this long list must now be added Syrians.
Let us first review the numbers. According to some estimates, which remain unverified for obvious reasons, there are at least two million internally displaced people; 75,000 Syrians have fled to Turkey, and 100,000 each to Jordan and Lebanon. These are huge numbers. While internally displaced people often seek shelter with relatives — although this is not always possible — those that have fled the country face numerous hurdles. Of all the refugees, those in Jordan are the worst affected. They have been dumped in the desert with few amenities like running water or electricity. The tents where they are housed are grossly inadequate.
The Jordanian desert is harsh; strong winds frequently blow sand inside the tents making breathing difficult. For people used to living in mountains to be thrust into an inhospitable desert environment with few amenities is truly cruel. Many Syrian refugees in Jordan have said they would like to return home. Why they are not being allowed is a political issue. These refugees are pawns in the hands of foreign powers that want to use their plight to whip up hatred against the government in Syria. True, Bashar al-Asad’s is not the most popular government in the region but there are much worse regimes — the Saudis, Jordanians and Qataris, for instance. Yet, these latter regimes are using the Syrian crisis to advance their own nefarious agenda.
The Saudis and Qataris have poured billions of dollars into the Syrian conflict by arming rebels and buying anyone that would defect from the Asad government. So far, they have not had much success. Why are billions of dollars not available to look after the refugees that have been driven from their homes and villages as a result of the US-Israeli-Saudi-Qatari financed conflict? If the Saudis are really concerned about the well-being of the Syrian people, why are the refugees excluded from such concern?
Turkey has been pushing for other plans that are equally untenable such as “safe havens” inside Syria and imposing a no-fly zone. The “safe havens” idea is a thinly disguised attempt to occupy parts of Syria so that a Libyan-style transitional government can be established there. This would then be used as a springboard to launch a full scale attack on Damascus. So far, these plans have not gotten anywhere because those stoking the flames of conflict by whipping up sectarianism have not had much success.
It would be far better to propose plans that would address both the political demands of people as well as the serious issue of the refugees’ plight. Cynical manipulation of their plight should not be allowed to advance a particular political agenda. Islamic Iran has proposed just such a plan that was presented at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran (August 26–31). Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called for a three-month ceasefire and immediate relief for the refugees and other people within Syria affected by the mayhem. He also called for a dialogue to resolve the crisis through negotiations. Those opposing this plan are clearly working to advance the imperialist-Zionist-Wahhabi agenda and must be condemned as enemies of Islam and the Muslims. Syrian refugees must not be used as pawns in a cynical game.