News & Updates
Syrian refugee crisis
April 16, 2016
Last fall, the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation launched Peace3, a campaign to inspire young people how to create a world of peace within themselves, peace between people, and peace among nations, based on the legacy of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Since launching that program, I have been struck by how may people have reached out to us from all over the world, specifically asking us if we can address the issue of refugees .
This situation becomes worse with every passing week. As Pope Francis prepares to visit the Syrian refugees, the nations of Europe turn to fear mongering among their populace, endorsing an attitude of xenophobia. In the United States, a candidate has risen to the top of a major party by promising to build a wall to keep out migrants and refugees trying to enter from Mexico. All the while, people, many of them children, are drowning in the Mediterranean, being forced into slavery, or detained for months on end in camps or detainment centers. From Malaysia to Texas, mass graves filled with the corpses of migrants are being discovered as their families are left to worry and wonder.
Xenophobia toward refugees is a world-wide dilemma, what can we do?
At its very core, our Peace3 program is based in the South African concept of ubuntu —Archbishop Tutu has explained this concept by saying, “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
When we see refugees suffering, and we choose not to do something, isn’t that deliberately hurting them? No one chooses to be a refugee. Refugees face poverty, discrimination, starvation, physical abuse, and separation from loved ones — but it is still better than the war or genocide they often face if they remain in their home countries.
Many of our leaders, abetted by our media, want us to be afraid of these refugees. They encourage a xenophobic attitude so that we as a society have an irrational fear of these innocents.
But we can overcome this. The first principal of Peace3 is peace within. We can be realistic about our fears and encourage others to overcome theirs. We can educate ourselves, learn about the refugee situation, learn about the economic facts related to immigration. We can make an effort to get to know each other without the blinders of fear that have been thrust upon us.
All of us remember the image of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian boy who was found dead on a beach off the coast of Turkey last year. That one image shifted the way that so many people throughout the world viewed the Syrian refugee crisis and humanized the issue for so many of us. But that goodwill toward the Syrian refugees ended when Paris was attacked last November and once again, an irrational fear was promoted.
But we can choose to have inner peace which will in turn allow us to change our mindset. What political messages do we listen to? Where are we getting our information? Are we choosing to feed our minds with content that subjects ourselves to fear and violence — or can we choose sources that are focused on love and peace?
It is easy to be influenced by negativity. We listen to the messages that we want to hear. When you look at a refugee, are you looking for a terrorist or a brother? Are you looking for hatred or love? By choosing to focus our minds on positivity, we not only will find happiness — we will find inner peace.
Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Those of us living in free societies need to find freedom from our mental chains, and then make an effort to welcome refugees.
But we also need to do more. Not every person can live in the U.S. or Canada or Europe. But we have the resources to help everyone in the world. The financial costs of terrorism and wars is far more than the cost of dealing with the issues that lead to refugees at their source. Most refugees don’t want to be refugees and would stay in their home countries if they could.
As long as people in the world are suffering from a lack of food, a lack of clean drinking water, a lack of education — we will have people wanting to escape those conditions. When people live with corrupt governments or a lack of care for the environment, or are denied their civil rights — those people will not have happiness.
Archbishop Tutu says, “We all belong to this one family, this human family, God’s family.” Are we going to fear our brothers and sisters, or are we going to learn about them, embrace them? Happiness comes from our relationships with other people. We can choose not to fear and instead to show love and compassion.
We can find peace within ourselves, share that peace with our brothers and sisters, and it will lead to peace among nations.
October 26, 2012
Over the past 19 months, the people of Syria have risen up against a regime that for over four decades has denied its people basic rights and freedoms. In response to demonstrations and protests, the regime of Bashar al-Assad has reacted with overwhelming force, giving way to an estimated 30,000 victims to date. International observers have noted the following:
- The United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria reports that Syrian state agents have violated various provisions of international humanitarian law, failed to distinguish between the civilian population and combatants, and failed to exercise proportionality with respect to civilian losses.
- Doctors without Borders states that the Syrian government continues to deny basic medical care to injured civilians.
- Reuters and the AFP report systematic acts of violence against civilians at the hands of the Assad regime.
- The United Nations-appointed Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic describes “…crimes against humanity of murder, torture, rape or other forms of sexual violence of comparable gravity…” at the hands of the State.
The international community has negotiated with and given Assad time, but diplomacy has failed. A military intervention currently is the only way forward to peace. The international community cannot be deterred by Russia’s objection, one that is hypocritical in light of Russia’s shipments of military equipment to Syria. Under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, the international community must act on its moral and legal responsibility to intervene when a people suffers from egregious acts of violence at the hands of their State. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights further requires States to ensure the protection of the right to life, prohibitions on torture, and freedom of thought and expression, all of which have been violated by the Syrian regime.
Syrian Refugee Crisis
In 1999, the world stood at a similar crossroads. A humanitarian crisis engulfed the Balkan Peninsula, but United Nations collective security action on Kosovo was impeded by a Russian veto. Despite this veto, NATO, based on a moral duty transcending Russian interests in the Balkans, undertook military action. Most observers now agree that NATO’s actions were legitimate and justified under international law.
The time is now for military action in Syria, with or without Russia’s consent. The international community, led by NATO or a similar coalition, must make a clear ultimatum to Assad: he may step down now in exchange for immunity or he will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity after a military campaign including air strikes to neutralize Syrian intelligence and strategic bases, the establishment of a no-fly zone, safe havens in Syria and at the Turkish border and material support to the opposition.
The failure to act cannot be justified by citing terrorists within the ranks of the Syrian opposition. While it is true that in recent months, some obscure Salafi Islamic groups have claimed responsibility for suicide bombings in Syria, it is entirely possible that such groups, unknown before the Syrian uprising, may be creations of the Syrian State. Upon defecting, former Syria Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced that one suicide bombing against a Syrian target was engineered by the regime against an empty target where not one regime soldier was harmed. It should not be surprising if the Islamic Al-Nusra Front, which recently claimed responsibility for an Aleppo air defense base attack where over one hundred captured opposition members were imprisoned, is similarly under the control of the regime, designed to bolster Russian claims of an “Islamic uprising.”
Yet even if groups such as the Al-Nusra Front are bona fide members of the opposition, their recent emergence in the conflict clearly shows that the failure of the international community to act has left a power vacuum that terrorist groups are eager to fill. Given concerns as to what the opposition is genuinely comprised of, the international community can condition its military support on commitments by opposition leaders to guarantee the basic rights of minorities and all religious groups, based on the Universal Declaration for Human Rights or on the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Military and political advisers of NATO or a similar coalition can work with opposition members in establishing a power-sharing model under a new Constitution where Sunni Muslims as well as Alawi and other minorities share power and guarantee the respect for the rule of law.
The road forward will be filled with challenges, but no case can be made for the current status quo of inaction. The ongoing massacre of Syrian civilians gives special urgency to the international community to act on its responsibility to protect.