The Syrian catastrophe

Updated - December 04, 2021 10:57 pm IST

Published - September 08, 2015 01:11 am IST

The shocking image of the lifeless body of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy who drowned while fleeing Syria’s Kobani, was a tragic reminder of the humanitarian crisis in the > West Asian country . Aylan and his family had been making a perilous journey through the Mediterranean Sea to reach the Greek island of Kos. They were not alone. Thousands flee Syria every day as it grapples with one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies in recent history. More than two lakh people have already been killed in the four-year-long civil war, according to the United Nations. Around four million people have been made refugees. Millions of other Syrians are trapped in the war in which nobody appears to be winning, forcing more people to flee the country. Aylan Kurdi was a victim of this situation. After the image of the boy lying face-down on a Turkish beach surfaced, several European governments, including that of the United Kingdom, have agreed to take in more Syrian refugees. While such moves should be welcomed on humanitarian grounds, it can’t be forgotten that the policies of the very same European governments towards Syria helped cause the chaos in that country.

Ever since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, there were no meaningful international efforts to find a political solution to the crisis. Instead, regional powers turned Syria into a geopolitical battlefield. Rich Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar supported different rebel groups against the regime because they wanted President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Iran, to be toppled. Turkey, driven by its regional ambitions, also threw its weight behind the rebels and kept open its long border, through which fighters could cross into Syria to join the war. Western powers such as the U.S. and Britain joined the ‘regime change’ chorus and offered support to the rebels. This drive failed to oust Mr. Assad, but has destabilised Syria, leading to the rise of terror groups such as Islamic State. It’s already too late now to find a political solution. IS controls almost half the country and it is trying to advance into areas controlled by the regime. If that happens, the humanitarian situation in Syria will worsen, triggering a further refugee exodus. To stop that from happening, regional heavyweights such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia and their backers in the West should reverse their policy towards Syria. They should rein in the rebels they bankroll and directly engage with the Assad regime to push for talks. Mr. Assad has to be blamed for the excessive use of force against his people. But he still controls the most populous areas of Syria and rules from Damascus, the seat of power. Mr. Assad clearly has to be an integral part of any future plan for Syria.

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