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Gulf, West grapple with Syrian refugee crisis

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By Kanika Rangray

Now-a-days on a daily basis, there comes a piece of news which reports the refugee crisis going on in the Gulf countries. Someone or the other talks about how the European Union (EU) is gradually, opening its arms towards the refugees of war torn countries like Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. On the contrary, Gulf countries surrounding these war-torn nations refuse to help the people who have somehow been lucky enough (if that term can be used) to escape the ongoing bloodbath.

Syrian refugee camp, Campbell

The refugee crisis gained a brighter spotlight globally especially after the image of a 3-year-old drowned boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying face down on a beach went viral—triggering the anger and anguish of millions around the world. Those millions maybe a stranger to the boy, but the picture conveyed the monstrous consequences burdened upon the civilians making them refugees.

The beginning of the refugee crisis

The current refugee crisis has its roots in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. The West, specifically the US, has a significant role to be accountable for current situation in war-torn Syria. During the early stages of the Syrian civil war, US authorities began the aid supply to various Syrian rebel groups. This happened after reports in 2013 revealed the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government to stifle rebel fighters.

Bashar al-Assad’s government denied these accusations, but the US continued to provide support to rebel groups; and many analysts prophesised that such actions will destroy the prospects of peace in Syria and prolong the war. This wreaked more havoc.

The continuous airstrikes carried out by the US, now being planned by Australia and France as well, on Islamic State of Iran & Libya (ISIL) and Islamic State of Iraq & Syria (ISIS) has brought down a catastrophe upon the devastated civilians of the victim nations. By July-end of 2015, in Syria alone the death count was an estimated 300,000. As many as 4 million Syrians were forced to leave their homeland as a consequence of the continued war. So, even though the refugee crisis cannot be altogether left on the shoulders of the West, the role it played can also not be ignored.

As a consequence, the ISIS and ISIL retaliated with terror. The war has now been going on for so long that it is now a blur of who started it first— like answering the question “Who came first? Was it the phoenix or the flame?”

Why have the Gulf countries not stepped forward?

The ongoing crisis has left approximately 12.8 million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Syria, and more than 50 per cent of the country’s population is currently displaced. According to the latest data provided by Amnesty International, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have refused any resettlement places to Syrian refugees.

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Michael Stephens, a Middle-East research fellow at Qatar’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, was quoted in a BBC article. He said: “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE are extremely concerned about the potential for Assad loyalists to strike back.”

He said the Gulf states were worried about security threats from Syrian refugees, fearing that they maybe loyalists of the Assad government.

 The helping hand forwarded by the West

EU has already taken steps to assist political asylum to refugees. Gradually, the US and other Western countries are now allowing the refugees to their lands for resettlement.

Some are of the belief that the Western countries are obligated to do so. They claimed that they are the main catalysts behind all the destruction which has led to the forced relocation of millions. Is there an ulterior motive?

With providing help and refuge to not just few but to millions, it doesn’t only grab attention, it’s something more! It will also bring allies on the global political front due to the so-called humanitarian act. Such allies “earned by heart-touching actions” could provide you a strong and high pedestal on the global political arena and also a considerable amount of influence on the same front.

Maybe the Gulf countries have finally noticed this as suddenly out of nowhere funds begin to pour in huge amounts. According to New York Times (NYT), Kuwait contributed more than $US304 million to the United Nation’s Syria response fund this year, making it the world’s third-largest donor. Saudi Arabia donated $US 18.4 million and the UAE provided more than $US 540 million in relief and humanitarian assistance.

Irrespective of this global-political playground, maybe it is genuine help in reaction to the atrocities, the need of the hour is to be more productive. Instant measures are required for the well-being of these destitute and homeless people, who are nothing more than victims of those greedy for power.

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Thousands Displaced as SDF Targeting Civilians Advances on Last IS Territory in Syria

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

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Syria
A U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter stands atop a hill in the desert outside the village of Baghuz, Syria, Feb. 14, 2019. VOA

Islamic State (IS) fighters are targeting civilians who are trying to flee the last territory held by the terror group in eastern Syria, U.S.-backed forces told VOA on Thursday.

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-backed Kurdish-led alliance, said that IS militants hit a road used by civilians to escape violence as the battle to free the town of Baghuz in Syria’s Deir el-Zour province enters its sixth day.

“IS has blocked that road to prevent civilians from coming to the SDF,” SDF fighter Ali Ahmed said. “They have targeted civilians there, but we have responded to their attacks against civilians.”

Ahmed said that some families of IS fighters are among the fleeing civilians.

Located near the Iraqi border, Baghuz is the last stronghold held by IS extremists in Syria. With the help of the U.S.-led coalition, SDF fighters have pushed out IS from all territories it once held since 2014.

Fierce fighting between IS militants and the U.S.-backed fighters continues as the latter try to gain ground on Baghuz on several fronts.

“We have two main obstacles as we advance on Baghuz,” Mustafa Bali, an SDF spokesperson, told VOA. “The first one is that [IS] terrorists are holding on to a number of civilians to use them as a bargain chip for their exit.”

Bali said the second obstacle for the SDF forces is that IS has a number of hostages who had been arrested and detained by the militants.

IS controls about 5 square kilometers of territory inside the Syrian town, local military officials said.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview. VOA

Ivan Hasib, a Syrian reporter covering the battle, told VOA that he witnessed an unusual movement by U.S. military vehicles in the area.

“It seems that even the Americans are trying to rescue those civilians and hostages from IS,” Hasib said in a phone interview.

He said the remaining IS fighters in Baghuz are hoping to exchange hostages for a safe exit into the Iraqi desert.

Also Read: Islamic State Using Women, Children as Human Shields to Postpone Defeat

“There must be some sort of negotiations between IS and SDF about the hostages, because even [U.S.-led] coalition airstrikes have stopped since Tuesday night,” Hasib said, adding that SDF fighters were forced to pause their military operations on the northeastern front in Baghuz.

“We can’t start marching toward it from this side because of civilians. Many civilians are using this road to this side. So we’re here to protect them,” Mezlum Kobani, an SDF commander, told VOA.

According to SDF officials, more than 5,000 civilians have been rescued from IS in Baghuz. (VOA)