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Friday, August 17, 2018

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Americas should exercise empathy in regards to the Syrian plight


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In America, we take our freedom for granted. We never wake up and wonder if today will be the end of life as we know it, or if the military will come and strip us of our belongings. It is implicit in the minds of Americans that America will continue. This security that has been afforded to us as the world’s super power has turned into privilege that keeps us from empathizing or even comprehending the struggles of others. 

If history has taught us anything, it is that even the most stable societies will at some point be threatened. This larger context eludes most people in the United States because there is little obvious evidence of it. Americans blissfully coast along the fabric of their safe and free society, unaware of the possibility that it could end.

In the rest of the world, people live with contrasting realities filled with cruel despots, tyrannical armies and a desperate struggle for survival.

In February, CNN published an article detailing a Syrian family’s flight from a war torn Syria. They payed with every bit of currency at their disposal to escape, and the smugglers they had hired abandoned them to the snow.

The evidence marks a young girl’s face with frostbite. This awful tragedy robbed her of four family members and her voice. The silence from her lips is deafening. 

There are many just like this family.

Syrians have been fleeing their country of birth since 2011. President Bashar al-Assad, with the help of his Russian allies, paints the land in the lifeblood of the Syrian people. Large swaths of those same Syrians have fled to wherever they can. Scores have died in the passage across the Mediterranean.

Amnesty International released a report last year stating that 2,000 refugees died crossing the Mediterranean in the first half of 2017.

The European Union’s response has been to strengthen border security, despite freedom of immigration being one of their core principals. The international community has largely chosen to ignore this human rights calamity, allowing the issue to slink into the periphery of our media cycles.

It seems that developed countries are content to let the issue solve itself.

Arguments have sprung up regarding the economic uses for the refugees. One such argument proposes refugees as a source of labor. Many European countries have labor shortages, and refugees appear to be a cost efficient solution. Additional arguments have been made about the legal jurisdiction regarding the refugees and which countries have the obligation of housing them.

They are housed in largely sub-par conditions. More than 70 percent of Lebanon’s 1 million Syrian refugees live in poverty. These conditions are not ideal, but most of the countries housing them would say that it is better than nothing. The economic and legal arguments for refugees are relevant, but are they right?  

That little girl, who cannot bring herself to speak any longer, is not a labor statistic.

There are 6.1 million internationally displaced Syrians, according to the United Nations. Before those people are refugees, before they are Syrians, they are people. Talking about people as simple numbers on a quota deprives them of their humanity.

Every single nation in the world is vulnerable to some degree. Ask yourself, if your world fell tomorrow, would you want to be left to the austere power of chaos and the mercy of a merciless dictator? Syrians who are driven from their homes have lives, families and dreams like you. The very fact that they are human should give us cause to provide for them.

Use your empathy, use your compassion, and try for a second to feel the pain of losing everything you have ever known. Because if we do not, then who will speak for us when our time comes?

Opinion Columnist Zach Appel is a political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]

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