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I have a lot of problems to overcome in trying to convince readers to think and — more meaningfully — to do something about this.
The first is convincing people that another country’s problems with immigration, legal and illegal, are worth attention when ours are severe, pressing, real, and tearing us apart.
The second is convincing people that Turkey’s problems, in particular, are worth attention: not much of a secret that Turkey’s gone, in the public mind, from “most excellent ally” to “utterly screwed up and no friend of ours.” (Neither are quite right, but the upshot is that I’m trying to get people to be interested in something they’re not, naturally, going to think of as “our problem.”)
The third is that what I’m about to describe is simply horrible and ugly, and the human mind doesn’t want to dwell on such things. What’s more, it may be something over which we have no control, and it’s very easy to default to the “can’t do a thing about it” position through exhaustion and fatalism. (I know this better than anyone, I reckon.)
The fourth is that the source of the report I’m about to discuss is Amnesty International, which has sadly squandered some of its credibility over the years. The reasons for that would be a detour to discuss, but I’m sure most of you know the basics. Amnesty’s reputation regarding Turkey is particularly poor, which makes things even more problematic.
All of that said and recognized — fully — my instinct is that the report I received from Amnesty yesterday (I’m still on lots of mailing lists about Turkey) should get attention. It seems credible and well-sourced, and probably contains much that’s true. I cannot say confidently that everything in it is true. But let’s suppose, and this is rational, that thirty percent of it is true. If so, it would be too fatalistic, by far, to say, “Nothing can be done.”
I read it all, start to finish, which wasn’t at all good for my happiness (cf. my previous posts about being happier not knowing). But there are considerations here that may be a bit more important than “Claire Berlinski’s happiness.”
The major points are these:
While Turkey has officially opened its border crossings to Syrian refugees, the reality for many of those trying to escape the ravages of war is a different story. Many are pushed back into the war zone with some even facing live fire.
Turkey is host to half of the 3.2 million women, men and children who have fled violence, persecution and other human rights violations in Syria. So far Turkey says it has spent $4billion on the refugee crisis. Meanwhile up until the end of October 2014, only 28 per cent of the $497million earmarked for Turkey in the UN’s 2014 regional funding appeal for Syrians has been committed by international donors.
Turkey, along with the other neighbouring countries– Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt – host 97 per cent of Syria’s refugees.
Don’t read the details unless you’ve got a strong stomach. But honestly, get a strong stomach, because what they’re saying is, I strongly suspect, happening. For real. To real human beings. And what those words represent, in terms of unimaginable human suffering, is not something from which we can all avert our eyes, is it? Not without becoming almost psychopathically indifferent?
In response, Amnesty is basically calling for other countries to give money to Turkey to help. That’s their idea of the basic outline to the solution. I am well aware that “Give lots of money to Turkey” is just obviously not going to be a political winner in the US right now. For obvious reasons.
But it may, in fact, be the right thing to do, or the best thing that can be done under the circumstances. “Giving money” would of course need to be coupled with a major effort to independently corroborate what Amnesty is saying, and very strong pressure to use that money well and to stop doing things such as, say, shooting children to stem the refugee tide. I can’t say how much all of that, in conjunction, would work. But can you think of a better idea?
I am more than open to the idea that this money should come from private donations, not from further coercing taxpayers. But quite doubtful that it will, and unsure what kind of vehicle for this would be most effective. Any ideas?
In anticipation of some of the points that might be raised (or, anyway, points I’ve raised with myself):
- “Hey, the world is full of suffering, we’ve done enough, we’re going broke fast, we’re demonstrably not good at alleviating the rest of the world’s suffering. Besides, Turkey is an absolute headache.” Yeah, I get that. Believe me I do. But is that a morally serious answer?
- “This is a political non-starter, Claire. Focus on what you could actually change.” I have that feeling, for sure. But the truth is that I don’t know that, as a fact.
- “This is utterly depressing. That part of the world is so pathologically screwed-up that even thinking about it damages our emotional health, so don’t do it. You don’t help anything by going out of your mind. In fact, you just become yet another problem for someone else to solve.” Yeah, sounds good. Sounds right. And I tried that, but the end result was feeling monstrously and deliberately callous in the face of reality, which is also not good for emotional health. Or spiritual health, for that matter.
- “Those refugees are probably bad people who deserve it, or not so good that they should be our focus.” I am not for a moment saying that this is what I officially believe or that this is what anyone here would say, but I think this can at some unspoken level become an unconscious default assumption; frankly, I think it has for many of us, including me. And that isn’t really acceptable, is it? Keep in mind that the majority of these people are children (Amnesty says “majority.” Is that true? I don’t know. But I’d put money on “a lot of them”).
No, I do not know for sure how to solve this or if it’s soluble. I just know that “ignoring it” isn’t sitting right with me, in the end.
This isn’t an invitation to vent about how awful Turkey; believe me, I’d join in if I thought that would be useful. But it wouldn’t be, nor would it be fair. They’ve done more than anyone else to help these refugees. Still, no country — good or awful — can be expected to absorb a flood of refugees like that without strain. “Strain” is a mild and euphemistic word for what is, in all likelihood, happening, and what looks very likely to get worse.
“Nightmare” is probably closer.