Human suffering is at the heart of all refugee crises. And the Syrian refugee crisis is by no means different. Over 200,000 dead, over 6 million displaced, and only 4 million Syrians registered as refugees by UNHCR. Images of people protesting, over-crowded railway stations and rubber dinghies cramped with people however bear a striking resemblance to the 1939 Jewish refugee crisis. History is often the best teacher, and it is not surprising that the world is looking for historical parallels in attempts to understand and rectify the crisis.
Refugees are born out of political disharmony. Nobody would voluntarily leave behind their homes, braving dangerous and often deadly situations unless they were out of options that would guarantee their safety. A refugee crisis, has at its core, a common “us” vs “them” perception. And this perception lowers the odds of refugees being granted asylum. Most often, the West European continent and the USA are popular choices for such displaced individuals.
However, the political conflict that has caused a refugee crisis, often gets overshadowed by issues of race, religion and gender. The Syrian crisis in this regard shares similar tones with the Jewish Refugee Crisis of 1930. Jewish Refugees in the 1930’s were accused of being anarchic, communists, and were despised as they were believed to “taint the Aryan stock.”
Unfortunately today’s Syrian crisis is no different Facing the same xenophobic attitude, Anti-Semitism has merely been replaced by anti-Muslim bigotry. In drawing comparisons between the two crises, critics are quick to point out that the Jewish one was more “genuine”, seeing as the Jews did not have any safe alternatives unlike the Syrian refugees, based on their religious affiliations have many places to go. Furthermore, Jewish refugees already shared the democratic values of the West unlike Syrian refugees that are possibly more radicalized having been exposed to extremist tendencies of terrorists. These critics citing security concerns as the primary reason for rejecting the Syrian refugee experience (valid as they may be taking into account current security concerns), fail to recognize that at the time Jewish refugees too were treated with the same hostility and fear. The rejection of Syrian refugees and their experience is apathetic to say the least. It took the death of an innocent boy for the world to sit up and take notice.
Invalidating the sufferings of the Syrian Refugees is equivalent to denying basic feelings of humanity. Yet in the age of free information, people continue to show ignorance towards the situation. Critics are protesting the idea that Syrian refugees are genuine. The assumption being that they are merely illegal migrants that are using the current world situation to manipulate and encroach upon jobs in the liberal and evidently richer countries. Citing images of refugees texting on smart phones and updating Facebook accounts (apparently only the right of rich white people), the critics assume that only “visibly poor” people could be refugees. Another failure of such critics is that they ignore the respectable status held by refugees in their countries of origin – specifically that the now-displaced individuals once enjoyed comfortable lifestyles, held stable jobs and were contributing members of society. Volunteers working at the Syrian refugee camps (the few that there are) bear witness to this fact.
One cannot justify stereotyping the ‘refugee experience’ However, in drawing comparisons between the two refugee crises, one can only hope to learn from past mistakes and thus avoid another a situation like the one involving the St.Louis ship. The world needs to realize that the Syrian Refugee crisis represents a global problem. Every person deserves the chance to have a better life. Developed nations who have the resources to accommodate asylum seekers can be a beacon of hope in this grim situation and prevent the possible extinction of generations of families.