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The game of displacements

The rising number of distressed war refugees poses a serious challenge to the worried European countries

The game of displacements

In the first week of July, the displaced people once again occupied major space in the news media. Italy threatened that if the boat people keep coming to the shores of Italy, it would close its ports for all immigrants and impound the boats of rescue organisations that are providing succor to them. In the meantime, the interior ministers of France, Germany, and Italy were holding talks in Paris. Italy has been the worst-affected by this problem because of its location right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Italy’s southern coast is not far from the African coasts.

In the north it has France, Switzerland, and Austria, making it an ideal landing rout to northern Europe where most migrants want to end up. Italy has its own population of around 60 million and being the fourth largest country in Europe after Germany, the UK, and France, it can hardly cope with the increasing influx of refugees. During the past few years, refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria — together with assorted nationalities of Africa — have entered the Mediterranean Sea on rickety boats that stray in the sea or just sink before any help comes.

In this situation, Italy has been acting responsibly by rescuing hundreds of boats with millions of refugees, most of whom are Muslims. But now it appears that Italy has lost its cool after helping over five million displaced people during the past couple of years. The latest cause of the Italian threat to close its ports is the fact that in just two days of the last weekend over 12,000 refugees landed on its shores. Now Italy has started crying for help and urging the European Union and the UN to come to its own rescue in the time of crisis.

Not everyone is lucky to reach Italy; thousands are drowning but there is no sustained letup in the influx. A major reason for this is the situation in Iraq and Syria. Though America has played a crucial role in the deterioration of the Middle East, the displaced can hardly reach the US. Most of them head toward Europe since it is closer and relatively easier to reach. With some recent successes of the government forces in both Iraq and Syria a ray of hope had emerged that the number of refugees would plummet, as a number of cities have been liberated from the rebel forces.

Since 2011, Syria alone has seen the displacement of over 15 million of its citizens. These people moved internally and externally, making it one of the worst displacements in human history. The casualties in Syria are mounting to over half a million with around 300,000 confirmed dead.

In Syria, the number of refugees who have come back to their homes is estimated to be around half a million. The cities that have seen a returning population include Aleppo, Homs, and Damascus. Obviously, these people had not become displaced at their own will; neither did they want to settle anywhere else, that’s why as soon as the situation improved in their cities they have started coming back to their homes and families. Sadly, when they return they face an uphill task of restoration at home. Just have a look at the photos of devastated cities with rows after rows of burned houses.

We are not talking about one or two streets, the entire neighbourhood and cities present heaps of rubble and charred vehicles. The returning refugees are mostly coming back from Turkey where they don’t see any prospects of a better life as in Western Europe.

Since 2011, Syria alone has seen the displacement of over 15 million of its citizens. These people moved internally and externally, making it one of the worst displacements in human history. The casualties in Syria are mounting to over half a million with around 300,000 confirmed dead.

Since 2011, Syria alone has seen the displacement of over 15 million of its citizens. These people moved internally and externally, making it one of the worst displacements in human history. The casualties in Syria are mounting to over half a million with around 300,000 confirmed dead.

While the refugees are facing displacement, even their camps are not safe from attacks. It appears that the rebels — after facing defeats on many fronts — are not even sparing the refugee camps. One such incident happened on June 30 in Lebanon when a camp near the Syrian border was targeted and five militants died, including one suicide bomber. Though there were not many casualties, it shows a disturbing trend. The Lebanese forces were searching for weapons hidden by terrorists in a bordering town when the encounter took place.

Now there are hundreds of thousands of refugees at the Lebanese-Syrian border and the Lebanese government is doing its best to accommodate them, but terrorists want to hamper these efforts. Al-Qaeda and the IS terrorists are operating in these areas and in addition to the Lebanese forces, also target the refugees. During Eid, another major accomplishment was the Iraqi victory in Mosul when the IS militants were finally driven out of their last hideout. But the historical toll was immense when the battle left the Al-Noori Mosque almost demolished. When the Iraqi forces approached the area the IS militants blew the mosque up.

This was the same mosque where the IS leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, had declared the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate and thus began the doom of the local people. Now, in retreat, the IS commanders blew up the 800-year-old leaning tower of the mosque. After the battle, the IS did not take the responsibility of the mosque attack and claimed that it was an American fighter plane that had targeted the tower. This leaning tower had an enormous value as a tourist attraction, much in the same fashion as the leaning tower of Pisa in Italy.

The Iraqi army rejected the IS claim and confirmed that the tower was demolished by the militants when the army was approaching the mosque. This destruction of historical building is a hallmark of religious extremists such as al-Qaeda, IS, and Taliban. After taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban had not only looted the museums but also destroyed historical artifacts — the worst being the destruction of the giant Buddha statues in Bamyan. These are the morons who prefer their sect over all cultural and historical heritage. Such fanatics have only one explanation of their faith with only one goal in life and that is imposing complete supremacy of their sect, which is hardly possible in the 21st century.

Sadly, even in Pakistan such people — believing in and promoting extremism — have infiltrated not only educational institutions but also electronic and print media from where they spout venom targeting young minds. Using thousands of people as human shields and forcing millions to displace is a strange religion. But the media minions try to justify all this with historical references by quoting examples of similar incidences in history. There is no denying the fact that such things have happened in the past and there is nothing new in them but trying to do that in the 21st century is mind boggling.

Another aspect of this game of displacements is the involvement of various warring factions from Iraqi official forces and Kurdish Peshmerga to Sunni Arab tribes and Shia militia. The good outcome is that finally after over nine months of fighting Mosul has been liberated from the IS. Though a part of Mosul was freed in January 2017, the remaining western part was still in the IS control that came to an end last week — after the destruction of the historic mosque. The mosque was built in the 12th century by a Turkic ruler of Aleppo, Nuruddin Zangi.

He died in 1175 but before that had managed to unite many Sunni Muslim factions to fight against the Crusaders and even against Shias. He ruled for almost 30 years over what is now Syria, including Damascus. After his death, Salahuddin Ayubi carried his mission forward by liberating Jerusalem in 1187. Notwithstanding the Muslim victories in the past, in the 21st century the Muslims of these areas are displaced and in distress and the European nations are helping them, Italy being a paramount example.

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

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