Europe is bracing itself for a second migrant wave from Syria as up to three million people begin to flee the country in the wake of the Russian military intervention. Russian warships fired 26 cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea yesterday. The missiles flew 900 miles over Iran and Iraq before hitting targets in the area around Aleppo in northern Syria.
Since entering the fray last week, Russia has hit 112 different targets. Yesterday’s assault saw 11 locations added to that list, according to Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defence minister. The strikes have been carefully co-ordinated with a ground offensive by Assad loyalists, backed by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.
Earlier this week it was reported that Russia’s President Putin is preparing a 150,000-strong ground force to enter Syria and take the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital city, located just over 100 miles east of Aleppo.
Unsurprisingly, the massive escalation in fighting in the region is expected to precipitate a new wave of refugees. Turkish officials have estimated that as many as 3 million may leave northern Syria, many of whom will want to make their way into Europe as hundreds of thousands have already done.
If they do, the number of Syrian refugees displaced into other countries would nearly double. Over the last four and a half years of civil war, approximately 5 million have left the country. The majority, nearly 2 million, are now in Turkey. A further 1.1 million are in Lebanon, while 440,000 have made their way to Europe.
Addressing European Union leaders, Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council urged greater solidarity between member states in the face of the crisis, as he warned that no help would come from countries beyond Europe.
“Europe is subject to an increasingly more scathing criticism, and our internal disagreements and mutual recriminations only help our opponents,” he said.
“In the United Nations, one could have an impression that Europe is the worst place in the world for refugees.
“Hundreds of thousands of refugees go to Europe because they know that our community is still the most open and tolerant of all. It is still us who respect international standards and conventions, and, it is Europe where people, all people, are safer than anywhere else.
“Let us not let Europe become a scapegoat due our quarrelling and blaming each other with no restraint. Otherwise, before long, theocracies will start to lecture us what religious tolerance means, dictators will tell us what democracy means, and those who are responsible for this massive exodus, will tell us how to treat refugees.”
Alluding to the Gulf States which have so far taken in no refugees, despite vociferous criticism of Europe for not doing more, Tusk said: “In fact, they are already doing this. There are countries, which virtually do not admit any refugees, but are most vocal when it comes to urging Europe to show more openness. That is why we have to take care of our good name, together.”
Tusk warned that a failure to stand together would result in member states being manipulated to turn against each other, ripping Europe apart from the inside. “For us, refugees are specific people, individuals, who expect our help,” he said. “There are forces around us however, for whom the wave of refugees is just dirty business or a political bargaining chip. We are slowly becoming witnesses to the birth of a new form of political pressure, and some even call it a kind of a new hybrid war, in which migratory waves have become a tool, a weapon against neighbours. This requires particular sensitivity and responsibility on our side.”
Although he rebuked the eastern and southern states such as Greece and Hungary for passing along the migrant problem by barring immigrants entry to their countries, he also had stern words for western states, notably Germany and France who want to throw the doors of Europe wide open.
“Today, the ethics of responsibility requires us to refrain from extremes. And by extremes I mean both anti-immigration rhetoric on one hand, and on the other, inviting everyone willing to come, despite being unable to take them under our roof.
“We finally have to understand it – today millions of potential refugees and migrants are dreaming about Europe – not only from Syria, but also from Africa, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other places. For all refugees, easy access to Europe and lack of external borders have become, besides the “Wilkommen politik,” a magnet attracting them to us.
“Declaring solidarity is always greeted with applause, while calling for responsibility and common sense – hardly ever. Practising solidarity is a lot harder than preaching it.
“Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande … have both demonstrated beautiful moral gestures, which we all highly appreciate. [But] they must pass an even harder exam: an exam in responsibility for the protection of the European political community and its external borders.
“Otherwise, they, and all of us will become responsible for the re-emergence of walls and barriers on our internal borders, here in Europe.”