A refugee crisis is only half the story in Syria - Macleans.ca

A refugee crisis is only half the story in Syria

Michael Petrou on why it’s time to confront our original failure in Syria: allowing Bashar al-Assad’s reign of terror to continue

(Mohammed Badra/Reuters)

(Mohammed Badra/Reuters)

We failed Alan and Galib Kurdi, and their mother, Rehanna, long before they drowned trying to cross from Turkey to the Greek island of Kos.

A photo of Alan, 3, lying dead on a beach, face down with his arms at his side as if sleeping, has caused international outrage about the plight of the millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their homes for a chance at a better life in the West.

Tima Kurdi, sister of the boys’ father, Abdullah, who survived the crossing, lives in British Columbia.

She told media she had tried to sponsor another brother, Mohammed, to come to Canada. She says her hope was to eventually bring Abdullah’s family over as well.

Mohammed’s application was rejected. Tima says Canada requested documentation that was impossible for Mohammed to get in Turkey. She then sent Abdullah money which he used to hire smugglers to ferry his family to Greece.

The drowned boys’ familial connection to Canada has led to renewed criticism of the government’s response to the crisis. Much of this is deserved. The acceptance of 2,400 Syrian refugees to date is a paltry response to the displacement of some 12 million over the last four years.

The additional 20,000 or so Syrians and Iraqis that the Conservatives have pledged to bring in by 2019 barely dents this figure—nor, it must be said, would the slightly higher numbers promised by the Liberals and the NDP.

Turkey is hosting close to two million Syrians. Lebanon has absorbed the equivalent of 25 per cent of its population. Germany expects 800,000 asylum seekers by year’s end.

“I don’t think this will overwhelm Germany. We can handle this,” German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière has said.

Canada’s response to the Syrian refugee crisis—while better than others, notably including America’s—has been inadequate. But before yelling louder for Alexander’s scalp, consider where the Kurdi family came from and why they, and so many others, piled into the dangerously overloaded boats in the first place.

They’re from Kobani, a Kurdish city in northern Syria that was besieged for months by jihadists of Islamic State who were hell-bent on destroying it and its inhabitants. Maclean’s met with survivors from the siege last October. One showed a photo on his phone of a severed head belonging to a man who had refused to leave his village and was caught by Islamic State—which then posted on the Internet proof of what they did to him.

This photo, too, should case outrage and demands for action. And Alexander and Prime Minister Stephen Harper are right to remind Canadians the Conservatives are the only party that thinks Canada should be part of the international military mission against Islamic State.

But there are other photos that also deserve our attention.

Take, for example, the 55,000 images taken by a photographer formerly with the Syrian military police known by the codename “Caesar.” He was secretly working with a Syrian opposition group and smuggled his photos out of the country. They depict some 11,000 murdered prisoners who died in facilities run by the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The victims were killed between 2011 and 2013 and were incarcerated in only one part of the country. In other words, there are many, many more. But even this fragment reveals sadism and murder on an industrial scale. The dead were also electrocuted, starved and had their eyes gouged out. They included children.

Those washing up dead on beaches in Turkey, or rotting in vans in Austria, or the lucky ones passing their children over razor wire fences erected in Hungary to keep them out, were also fleeing this fate.

In fact, for all the grotesque savagery of Islamic State, most dead Syrians have perished at the hands of the Syrian regime. It is Assad’s air force that drops barrel bombs on schools. It is his armed forces that have levelled entire urban neighbourhoods.

So when Harper and Alexander talk about Islamic State jihadists driving refugees into boats, they’re right, but they’re only telling half the story. Syrians are also fleeing Assad.

Most Western leaders don’t talk much about that these days—perhaps because it’s just too embarrassing. They once said Assad had to go. American President Barack Obama warned that even the movement of chemical weapons was a “red line.” Assad gassed kids to death, and still rules the country.

Many of us support the idea of accepting more refugees. Confronting our original failures in Syria, the many ways we failed Syrians long before they took flight, is more difficult. It will require hard choices and substantial sacrifices.

“I’m not a military expert. All I know is that people are dying, and the two most effective killing machines in Syria right now are Da’ish [Islamic State] and the Assad regime. And both of them need to be stopped,” Jasim al-Dandachi, a Syrian refugee now living in Montreal, told Maclean’s this summer.

“You just stop the war, and we don’t want to go to Europe,” a young Syrian migrant told Al Jazeera.

Tima Kurdi, during her news conference, said: “There’s one thing that should be done: End the war. That’s all I can say. End the war.”

Ending the war means putting an end to Assad’s reign of terror, as well as Islamic State’s blood-soaked so-called caliphate. We all say we want to prevent more toddlers drowning while fleeing Syria. We’re not really willing to do what that would take.


A refugee crisis is only half the story in Syria

  1. “Conservatives are the only party that thinks Canada should be part of the international military mission against Islamic State.”

    Oh puleeze. It was ‘military missions’ that got us into this mess in the first place.

    Attacking Afghanistan when everyone knew bin Laden was in Pakistan……then on to Iraq over non-existent WMDs. What was that??

    Encouraging…..and supplying…..an ‘Arab Spring’ by average citizens up against the military might [we also supplied] of govts.

    One coutry after another……we’ve sold weapons to everyone, and encouraged fighting in the name of ‘democracy’ and cheered on every attack.

    Now the whole ME is in flames……and you want to do it again!

    ISIL has no ships, and no planes, and no nukes…..it’s a small band of former Saddam generals who push western buttons….we did it and we’re still doing it. But you can’t win a guerrilla war.

    Stop the fighting and try to use some brains this time.

    • If it was up to your leader Trudeau, we would be dropping food and warms clothes on them…

  2. It is time we let them in without judgment, They need our help and compassion NOW!

    • Marie-Helene Gagnon wrote:
      “It is time we let them in without judgment, They need our help and compassion NOW!”

      Marie, you are aware that our forces have found documents and plans created by ISIS which spell out how these Islamist fanatics want to get their “soldiers” into Europe and the USA to carry out terror attacks correct?

      The plan spells out pretty clearly that ISIS wants to insert hundreds of their terrorists into these non-muslim nations by means of fraudulent “refugee” claims.

      Harper has it right. Help those who need it the most, but do NOT open the floodgates as you suggest and let everyone come in. they have to be screened first to make sure we don’t let the wrong folks in.

      I suspect however, that you would the first one on the bandwagon if there was a terrorist attack in Canada and begin blaming Harper for not doing a good job of protecting the country from terrorist attacks.

  3. Well said, Michael,

    Unfortunately, the pacifists would rather maintain the status quo, and Canada alone can’t defeat the barbarians on both side of the conflict. Obama won’t make the decision to put “boots on the ground” and without the USA taking the lead, many nations will hesitate to do what needs to be done.

    Imagine the result if we were to put 500,000 WESTERN troops in the region to defeat BOTH regimes? It would be bloody, it would be long, and it would be unpopular once the photo’s started to come out. The same folks calling for action NOW, would be the first out the gate to start criticizing. this is a no win situation; especially for the Syrians and Iraqi vicitms.

    the one thing that may get things moving however, is the European population becoming SO FED UP with their inept leadership, that the EU says damn the USA, and they send their own armed forces in to clean up the mess.

    Obama won’t do squat now that he’s signed a Nuclear agreement with Iran (main supporter of Assad as you already know).

    None of this will end until OBAMA is gone, and a republican takes his place.

    When we go in….go in hard, go in fast, and show no mercy. If an ISIS figher drops the severed head in his right hand and puts his hands in the air….shoot him right in the face.

    • I have no time for Obama and even less for Trudeau. However, the Syrian crisis is one truly where the EU should get off it’s butt and take the lead. It is the group with the most significant impact. Germany should forget about taking in 800,000 refugees and use that money to lead an effort to put boots on the ground in Syria. Why is it assumed that the US has to be the leader?

      • Jerome,

        The USA has the best “toys” to clean out the rats. It is also the strongest nation on earth and that carries a lot of weight. Not saying it is essential…but it would certainly help.

        Now…if only we could stop the USA from selling all of our enemies weapons. That may help even more.

  4. As I have said before – Canada – U.S. – England – France – Germany – Australia and the list goes on.
    Get it together – pick a spot and start taking them out.
    No sissy rules of engagement that the American troops have to abide by – stop or I’ll shoot – he didn’t stop – I shot – it’s that simple.
    Like jameshalifax says – when he puts his hands up it gives you an even clearer shot at him.
    You have to fight them the way they fight you and soon they will discover that they have a bit of a problem and soon will fear our forces.
    Use what we have – the U.S. are the masters of the night in battle – let’s use it – Canadians throughout history have been known as superb fighting men and combination of the Canada and U.S. special forces back in the big one were the most feared – (by the enemy) of all others.
    There was a celebration of that joint operation this summer in Helena Montana the Canadian and U.S. special forces had a play date.The Devil’s Brigade I believe is the name that brought fear to hearts of the enemies of our nations.
    We can do that again.
    I would not be a long battle – it would be expensive and some of our brave men and women would pay the price – for us.
    Mr. Walsh told his daughter when she asked why he had to fight over there and I believe his answer was so he wouldn’t have to fight them here. He was killed in Afghanistan.
    The young Syrian said just stop the war – they don’t want to go to Europe.
    All the able bodied men and woman that are fleeing this evil need to be armed and trained somewhat to stand up against this terror.
    We need to stand beside them and help them take back their country.
    First you locate the enemy – then bomb and bomb and bomb and then roll in the tanks – wave after wave and then the troops – never stop coming.
    You let the special forces gentlemen and ladies – (you now have 2 ladies just completed their ranger training) congrats ladies you have done yourselves proud.
    They need to go in and take out the leaders – track them down – go in under the cover of darkness and show them the error of their ways.
    When they surrender – and they will or they will die – we step back and let the people whose countries have been destroyed deal with the ones that are left.
    I am sure they know what to do.
    When this is done let’s take a look at Africa and clean that up – a good wet operation could eliminate a lot of the problems and they would get the message.
    It will take years for the people of these war nations to put their countries back together again and we should do what we can to aid them – but – not while we have people in our country suffering because of lack of resources.
    I think I’m done here.
    I am Canadian eh!!

    the Commodore

    • Makes sense to me, Commodore,

      which means all the usual suspects will call you a war-monger, while at the same time saying we should be letting in refugees. After all, it is easier up front to let the displaced in, than it is to prevent them from being displaced in the first place.