A young migrant was pictured on a Turkish beach yesterday. Barely over a year old, he was dressed smartly in a red T-shirt and blue shorts, his hair appearing neatly combed and his face, lapped by gentle waves, partially buried in the sand.
In happier times it could have made for a good portrait of a toddler enjoying himself during a family beach picnic. Unfortunately, we live in a sick, cruel world where even small, helpless children wash up on strange shores – dead.
A Turkish police officer, his face sombre at the grim discovery, cradled the young child who would be no doubt buried in an unmarked grave. He was probably from Syria, the nameless victim of a shipwreck, which killed several others.
The pictures coming out of Europe where tens of thousands of hapless migrants have arrived thanks to the merciless wars in Syria, not to speak of the violent unrest in places like Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, are, plainly put, a blot on humanity.
Europe, most of which was founded on the basis of democracy, human rights and fair play, has been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis. For weeks it appeared unsure about how to deal with the situation before Germany, Greece and Italy finally signed a joint declaration yesterday calling for a “fair” distribution of migrants in the European Union.
Anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe is rife. Partially fuelled by the financial crisis that has hit several countries in the continent, there is a feeling that accommodating hundreds of thousands of new immigrants would result in the eroding of European values besides leading to further economic problems.
But the sheer scale of the unfolding tragedy seems to have moved many previously xenophobic inhabitants of the continent to adopt a more sympathetic attitude, especially after the discovery of a refrigerated van with about 75 dead refugees on an Austrian highway a few days ago.
Thousands of Austrians held welcome placards outside a Vienna railway station a couple of days ago saying they would be happy to see the refugees settled among them. In a small German town, people have opened their houses to the Syrians.
Yesterday, members of the World Cup winning German football team condemned xenophobic attacks on the refugees. Led by captain Bastian Schweinsteiger, a group of players appeared in a video holding up signs condemning violence and calling for “respect”, “help”, “integration” and “fairplay” towards any refugee arriving in Germany.
Europe’s biggest economy this year expects a record 800,000 asylum applications, more than any other EU country. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has emerged as the go-to person for virtually any calamity hitting Europe, has been named “Mama Merkel” by the migrants. Lashing out at xenophobic Germans, Merkel said Germany would have “no tolerance” for “shameful and vile” violence against refugees.
Tragically, the cash-rich Gulf countries have not yet issued a collective statement on the crisis – much less come up with a strategy to help the migrants who are overwhelmingly Muslim. Turkey has taken in more than 2.5mn Syrian refugees, while not-so-well-off Lebanon is also hosting hundreds of thousands. In this part of the world, however, the silence is deafening.
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