Editor's Corner

Global Warming and Freezing Compassion

By Patricia Keegan

Among all the dire consequences of global warming, scientists now think that melting glaciers and ice caps could cause the earth to tilt on its axis. We could wryly lament that phenomenon as the root cause of the turbulent, tilted thinking we see here in the U.S. and across the world manifesting in wars, threats from North Korea, the rise of ISIS, right wing extremism on the rise in Europe, and the demoralizing, thoughtless tone of the frontrunners, on the Republican side, in the election campaign.

No, the tilt we are witnessing here on earth is not due to a tilted axis, it is the historic struggle for power once again being fueled by anger and frustration, which inevitably will lead to more discontent.

Everyone, everywhere, is looking for answers, but they want easy answers. There are none! To find an answer we have to look beyond ourselves, beyond our religion, beyond our political affiliation, beyond innate prejudices, to discover the common thread that can unite us in our humanity. There is only one word that can cover all that it means to find that thread -- compassion. Compassion, intertwined with love, is the key that makes us fully human. It’s the key that unlocks the willingness to search for and find solutions to the complex challenges in our world today.

photographer: Hereward Holland | A family of refugees help a distressed woman ashore on the Greek island of Lesvos.

photographer: Hereward Holland | A family of refugees help a distressed woman ashore on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Nevertheless, it's like standing on the deck of a ship watching helplessly as a storm hovers on the horizon. On TV we see the children and hear the cries of hunger as they flee from war torn countries, from the Middle East, North Africa, from bombs in Syria, from Afghanistan, where the Taliban just picked up after the war to continue their sadistic persecution of women and girls.

Now, all over Europe, we see bereaved parents carrying baggage on their backs and children in their arms. These are families fleeing for their lives, clinging to a ray of hope, believing that each step forward will bring them closer to a rational world. Spread across this world, from one hemisphere to another, is a trail of pain, a pain which increases every moment of every day.

We can look back to the late summer of 2015, when the flood of refugees began to increase. At first it seemed they would be welcomed. Germany's Angela Merkel rose to the occasion, receiving more than a million with determination and compassion, knowingly putting her job on the line. Still the world did not "get it." Finally, when the drowned body of three year-old Alyan Kurdi drifted ashore, cheek resting on the shores of Lesbos, the world paid attention. The news was bad. In the first two months 400 people had drowned crossing the Mediterranean. Conditions were atrocious, well beyond what one country could handle, and certainly not Greece with 42,000 stranded on its doorstep, sleeping in the open in Athens. While trying to deal with its own economic crisis, most Greek people showed kindness and generosity to the refugees, especially on the island of Lesbos, as they came by the thousands in rickety boats from Turkey.

Last year, 1.25 million entered Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, the majority fleeing from conflict. Unfortunately, the oases of rationality and hope envisioned by the refugees had become threadbare.  In the early stages of migration, some were fortunate to find welcome, but in early 2016 doors began to slam shut. They were literally shooed away, left to survive by their wits alone.

The crisis has strained relationships between the 28 European Union member states as some remain open to sheltering refugees while others are opposed. The disagreements have caused a serious fissure, threatening to break their unity.

After a major conference of EU countries on March 18, Donald Tusk, EU Council president, and Turkish Prime Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, created a plan for the future of refugees coming to Europe. Prior to the final agreement, Davutoglu told reporters what he hoped to achieve. “Our goal is to help all the refugees, as well as to deepen Turkish-EU relations, which is good news for our continent and for humanity altogether."

Turkey will receive 6 billion euros (about 6.6 billion dollars) to manage the project. Donald Tusk laid out the EU Council’s guiding principles: The agreement must be acceptable to all EU members, it must comply with international law and EU law, and must be part of an international strategy.

Photographer: Hereward Holland | A UNHCR staff member talks to a family of refugees who have just arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the short stretch of sea from Turkey.

Photographer: Hereward Holland | A UNHCR staff member talks to a family of refugees who have just arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the short stretch of sea from Turkey.

The EU and Turkey agreed to the following:

1) All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;

2) For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU;

3) Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU;

4) Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or have been substantially reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated;

5) The fulfilment of the visa liberalization roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. Turkey will take all the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements;

6) The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilize additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018;

7) The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.

8) The accession process will be re-energized, with Chapter 33 to be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace;

9) The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.

Photographer: Ivor Prickett | 6-year-old Syrian refugee Sarwan from Kobane sits alongside his mother and brother wrapped in an emergency blanket moments after the family had a terrifying end to their journey to Lesbos.  The boat they were in burst and many of those onboard had to jump into the sea and swim ashore.

Photographer: Ivor Prickett | 6-year-old Syrian refugee Sarwan from Kobane sits alongside his mother and brother wrapped in an emergency blanket moments after the family had a terrifying end to their journey to Lesbos. 

The boat they were in burst and many of those onboard had to jump into the sea and swim ashore.

 The EU and Turkey agreed that:

1) All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey to the Greek islands as of 20 March 2016 will be returned to Turkey;

2) For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from the Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled to the EU;

3) Turkey will take any necessary measures to prevent new sea or land routes for irregular migration opening from Turkey to the EU;

4) Once irregular crossings between Turkey and the EU are ending or have been substantially reduced, a Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme will be activated;

5) The fulfilment of the visa liberalization roadmap will be accelerated with a view to lifting the visa requirements for Turkish citizens at the latest by the end of June 2016. Turkey will take all the necessary steps to fulfil the remaining requirements;

6) The EU will, in close cooperation with Turkey, further speed up the disbursement of the initially allocated €3 billion under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey. Once these resources are about to be used in full, the EU will mobilize additional funding for the Facility up to an additional €3 billion to the end of 2018;

7) The EU and Turkey welcomed the ongoing work on the upgrading of the Customs Union.

8) The accession process will be re-energized, with Chapter 33 to be opened during the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union and preparatory work on the opening of other chapters to continue at an accelerated pace;

9) The EU and Turkey will work to improve humanitarian conditions inside Syria.

This is a case where people came together to search for a solution and decided on an alternative to the disorganized mess. Both sides had much to gain from coming up with what seems a viable solution. One can’t help but wonder how all this works for the refugees themselves. For example, among one million refugees one can envision one million varieties of issues including the separation of family members.

Photographer: Ivor Prickett | A Syrian woman cries in relief as she embraces her three young children. They have just endured a very rough crossing across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos. Women and children currently account for two thirds of those crossing to Europe. In February 2016, they made up nearly 60 per cent of sea arrivals, compared to 27 per cent in September 2015.

Photographer: Ivor Prickett | A Syrian woman cries in relief as she embraces her three young children. They have just endured a very rough crossing across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos.

Women and children currently account for two thirds of those crossing to Europe. In February 2016, they made up nearly 60 per cent of sea arrivals, compared to 27 per cent in September 2015.

The Syrians want to return to their country, but how many years before it becomes a viable option, and what will happen in the lives of the families as regards survival and education for the children?

Europe’s plans are premised on the idea that Turkey is a safe country for refugees and that asylum seekers can apply for protection there. Turkey has already taken in nearly three million refugees from the Syrian war. 

But human rights advocates argue that the deportation plan is fundamentally flawed and represents an abdication of European responsibility to help those seeking a haven from conflicts. Amnesty International has called it “a historic blow to human rights.”

On April 4, the first day the agreement was put into action and refugees were escorted to boats by Greek riot police, Eva Cosse, of Human Rights Watch, said “this could be the turning point that could be a harbinger of a gross violation of human rights.”

Along with human rights advocates, the Agreement has stirred controversy with the United Nations, as well as Pope Francis, who is planning a special trip to Lesbos accompanied by the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church, Archbishop Leronymos II, on April 14-15. Pope Francis said the purpose of the visit is “to shed light on the migrant crisis.”

Meanwhile, here in America -- the “beacon of hope” -- are we going to dim the lights and keep refugees at a distance, as already the Governors of some 32 states have vowed?  In the end it’s up to us, the American people, to keep the values of human rights and justice for all in the forefront, and particularly as we go to the ballot box. There has never been a more crucial time in our history to keep the lights of freedom from flickering in uncertainty about what it means to be an American.

Cover photo by Socrates Baltagiannis -  A young Afghan girl is comforted by her mother after safely arriving by boat on the Greek island of Lesvos. In May 2015, around 300 people arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos every day, with many coming from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.