History will remember this period for the coronavirus pandemic. But even against a backdrop of such a truly global event, reality marches on. The 15th of March marked the ninth anniversary of the Syrian Civil War, a conflict which has claimed the lives of perhaps half a million human beings and displaced millions more.
The irony is lost on many in the West as they begin to get to grips with new government measures. Their movement is now restricted, their access to education and healthcare severely limited. From the comfort of their homes they begin to get a tiny fraction of a glimpse of the daily reality facing the world’s 70.8 million refugees and displaced people, half of whom are younger than 18.
Unable to socialize with family and friends, they now turn to digital tools and platforms to stay connected and access vital information. In their own way, they begin to mirror the steps taken by displaced people around the world. Only time will tell if this new way of life can foster some deeper understanding between native and migrant populations as realisation dawns; ‘oh, so that’s what it kinda feels like.’
Justice or petty revenge?
Meanwhile, the political wheels keep turning. The 13th of March saw three men sentenced to 125 years in prison each for their part in the death of Alan Kurdi. Though few even knew his name, his was the tragic story of the little boy washed up dead on a Turkish beach. He was three years old.
Alan’s death was an emblem of the refugee crisis, in fact it was one of the sparks which ignited the Techfugees mission. Three men who sought to profit from human misery have been deprived of their freedom. Is that authentic justice, balanced against Alan, his brother, his mother, and two others who lost their lives?
Besides, there’s no justice, no retribution for refugees who aren’t ‘famous.’ How many more have lost their lives in the unforgiving Mediterranean? How many more will follow them? And while we might collar the odd smuggler here and there for a nice feelgood show trial… who should we truly hold responsible?
The human cost of political games
These two threads are intertwined, the pandemic and the refugee crisis. Both are systemic failures of a global machine which holds borders and profit sacred above human life.
Those with the political power and will to make life harder for refugees will likely never face justice. Those responsible for chronically underfunding health services will never have their day in court. All these are political choices, not natural laws, and we see the failure of this ideology as nature reasserts itself.
Yet, the games continue. In February and March, Turkey provoked displaced people to travel to Greece, putting pressure on the EU for not doing its part. In typical draconian fashion, the EU closed its borders, leaving people with nowhere to go but straight into a cloud of teargas.
Where do we go from here?
There’s a crushing inevitability to these games. A decade of murderous austerity is followed by a global pandemic and… what did you expect? Ten years with no investment in integrating refugees and… what did you expect?
But the situation is not hopeless.
The conversations we have now will decide what the world looks like after COVID-19, after Syria. Governments must be held to account for their magical ability to find money for public health as soon as their voter base is threatened. Progressive, human-centric policies can’t be held back as ‘special treats’ for times of global emergency. Migration policies that accept the reality of climate change can’t wait anymore.
From these two ongoing crises, and from missed opportunities in 2015 to invest in sustainable solutions, we can and must contribute to creating a better world. One with digital tools that work for host communities, displaced people, and local governments.
As we turn to the internet to provide us with a lifeline to the world, we discover that life can continue at a distance for so many of us in the West. We’re being granted a unique opportunity to rethink and reflect on how to create better, more resilient communities which care for the most vulnerable.
As Yuval Noah Harari puts it, “short-term emergency measures become fixtures of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. (…) In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”
Good people, well-coordinated online, can apply pressure and forge a new political will to act.
Before it’s too late.
This post was written by the team at Sookio.