Suddenly, the media have discovered there is a refugee crisis. But there has been a global refugee crisis for quite some time, including countless Africans who have fled their countries, and many who have died on their way to Europe. That none of these refugees are white seems to be the problem behind the lack of a global response to a worldwide catastrophe.
The photos of a dead 3-year old Syrian boy in a red t-shirt—who reportedly washed ashore, lying face-down in the sand when his boat sank between Turkey and Greece—has tugged at the heartstrings of readers in the West, as the death of any child should.
The Guardian reports that the death of the Syrian boy has galvanized public opinion and pressured Europe to take action on its refugee crisis, with the UN high commissioner calling on the European Union to admit up to 200,000 refugees in a mass relocation program. Britain has reportedly agreed to take 4,000 refugees, and Germany has planned to take 800,000 asylum seekers this year.
In The Independent, the focus is on the Syrian refugee crisis from the standpoint of the civil war in Syria. A 13-year-old boy living in Hungary with his sister reportedly told Al Jazeera: Please help the Syrians. The Syrians need help now, just stop the war. We don’t want to stay in Europe, just stop the war.” “The police don’t like the Syrians in Serbia, in Hungary, in Macedonia, in Greece,” he added. A petition to the British parliament will force the country to address the issue of offering proportional asylum in comparison to other European nations.
The Syrian refugee crisis did not just begin, as a report from the Washington Post offers. Around 11 million people, or half of Syria’s population have fled the country or died since 2011, and of these, 4 million have been forced out of the country. And the UN has reported massive funding shortfalls in dealing with the millions displaced Syrians.
Some media outlets have focused squarely on the Syrian refugee crisis in the Mediterranean to make a larger point. For example, Quartz argues the photo has “stirred the conscience Europe in a new way,” as a symbol of what happens when “our humanity fails.” Quartz reports that 638 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean in August alone, while 3,600 refugees died around the world this year, underscoring the gravity of the global crisis. The media outlet also made a distinction between efforts by European nations who want to do more to address the crisis and take in more refugees, and the underlying racism in Europe. For example, Hungary has closed the doors to all refugees, while some European nations such as Poland, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have revealed their ugliness through their preference for Christian—specifically non-Muslim—refugees.
According to CNN, the leaders of Russia and Turkey say the West is to blame for the curent crisis. “To be honest, the whole Western world is to be blamed in my opinion on this issue,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told CNN, accusing Europe of turning the Mediterranean into a cemetery. “That’s the reality on the ground,” he said. “Because the countries bordering round the Mediterranean — they do not want these people no matter what the cost.” RT referenced a statement from Russian president Vladmir Putin, who said the U.S., blindly followed by Europe, pursues misguided foreign policy in the Mideast and North Africa without considering the local historical, religious, national and cultural characteristics. America, Putin said, does not have to bear the burden of the migrant crisis, but Europe does.
Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson blamed racism for Britain’s refusal to accept more refugees. “If these people were white, European, that were coming from some dictatorship in Bosnia. If they were coming I think we would feel quite differently about it,” Thompson told the BBC.
In contrast to much of the media focus, in Deutsche Welle examined the influx of African refugees into Europe. Thousands of Africans have crossed the Mediterranean in a perilous journey, escaping economic hardship, human rights abuses, war, and ethnic and religious conflicts. For example, over 300,000 people fled Eritrea last year, according to the UN, many of them young men fleeing compulsory military service. The report also looked at Nigeria, Somalia, Gambia, South Sudan and Senegal, the other African nations from which the most refugees are emanating.
Meanwhile, Haaretz reported that two-thirds of the 8,335 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel were returned to their home countries, facing possible torture. This, despite claims from Israeli government the refugees were leaving to “safe” third countries. “Apparently state authorities believe that the only solution regarding African asylum seekers is jailing them or deporting them to other African countries – anything so that we fulfill our duties to them and don’t suffer their presence here,” wrote Aeyal Gross. According to human rights groups, the U.S., Sweden and other Western countries have secretly taken in about 200 African asylum seekers from Israel over the past five years. “The fact the United States and Sweden treat asylum seekers from Israel as they do those from African refugee camps is a badge of shame for Israel,” said attorney Michal Pinchuk, director of Assaf, a refugee assistance organization.
In July, a report in Africa Is A Country argued that in Germany, some refuges are more equal than others. “A conservative audience fearing ‘asylum abusers”, ‘economic refugees”’, and ‘Islamic extremists’ has found easy scapegoats in young Arab and African men, some of whom have lost their homes and families,” writes Hanno Brankamp. “In contrast, Syrian refugee and asylum-seeker families are seen as more agreeable.” Brankamp adds that the old colonial sentiments, fearing affairs between European women and Black men as taboo and a threat to the old order, are flaring up again in Gemany. Moreover, Brankamp suggests that as Germany has the capacity to do far more, Ethiopia and Kenya are bearing the brunt of global displacement, with Ethiopia hosting 665,000 refuges, and Kenya with over 600,000 from Somalia and South Sudan.