Bashar al-Assad has ruled Syria for 15 years with intimidation and murder, tens of thousands of murders that his Shia Alawites have committed against not just the Sunni Arabs who oppose him, but against innocents. And now, with the world’s conscience raised by a heart-rending photo of a dead toddler on a beach in Turkey, the realization is that the Syrian civil war is destroying families as it ultimately will destroy the country itself.
Europe, at last, is welcoming more Syrian refugees. Nearly half the country has been displaced, with 4 million refugees seeking new homes and more than a quarter-million people killed. Neighboring countries have taken in some. Russia, whose support for Assad has prolonged the civil war, has not done its part to help those seeking refuge from it. On Saturday, Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russia foreign minister against expanding its military support for the Assad government.
Pope Francis, in an eloquent plea for mercy for refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, said, “May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my Diocese of Rome.”
Thousands and thousands of refugees have been fleeing, some stopped at other borders, with many complaining they’ve been treated like criminals by their “new” countries. But European leaders, seeing that awful photograph and witnessing news coverage of the brutality inflicted on civilians by all sides of the Syrian civil war and fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, now have changed their positions about the limits placed on refugees.
It’s true that the nations welcoming refugees do have challenges in terms of preparing for and taking care of these families. Yes, they have to protect the interests of their own citizens. But as long as there have been countries, and dictators, and religious oppression and gratuitous murder, there have been refugees. In the case of European countries that have declining populations, such as Germany, the wave of refugees, most of them young and some well-educated, could improve rather than burden their economies.
The issue in Syria , is one of survival. It is about parents seeing that their children are not gunned down in the streets. But now, with the refugee movement, it is also about trying to make passage to a place where there is a chance to live, however meager the circumstances may be. It is about seeing to it that their children make it to a safe place, not perish on a foreign shore.