Let me tell you something about fear; about what happens to the pit of your stomach when sirens go off and bombs rain down on your city; about what happens when you are woken up in the middle of the night by your frantic parents who are shaking with fear; about when your dreams are reduced to staying alive, and when all you can ever hope for is for peace. Let me tell you; it’s awful!
And when you are young, like I was during the Iran-Iraq war, your sense of danger heightens.
With each whistling sound that came before the explosions, I assumed our house was the target. A light left on at a neighbour’s house during the bombardments would send me into a panic that our whole street would be wiped out soon. Food shortages, rations for everything, the long queues and the tapes on our windows at home, were constant reminders of war.
I was fortunate enough to be able to leave behind the trauma of a bloody revolution and the war that followed it, and take sanctuary in the country of my birth, the UK.
For millions of Syrians, the daily life is much more horrific than anything that I experienced in Iran. It is utter desperation that leads so many to risk so much to reach safety. Many refugees experience dislocation within their own country first before deciding to move across the border in search of safety.
For refugees fleeing war, life is a constant game of hide-and-seek with death.
Every refugee has a unique story. The Syrian toddler whose lifeless body was washed ashore on a beach in Turkey was named Aylan; an Arabic name which, figuratively speaking, means “great”, “supreme”.
It is not too farfetched to assume that all Aylan’s parents wanted was a chance to keep him safe, and for him to have the opportunity to live up to his name.
Some have questioned Aylan’s parents’ decision to leave the safety of Turkey, a decision that led to Aylan’s tragic death.
The clue to explaining their decision not to stay in Turkey is in their surname “Kurdi” which means “ from Kurdistan”. Aylan’s father is a Syrian Kurd.
Anyone who knows anything about the Turkish history would tell you that, at best of times, Turkey is not a welcoming place for Kurds.
Having said that, Turkey must be commended for taking over 2 million refugees so far; but life for Syrian refugees, especially for the Kurdish Syrians, is not easy.
Turkish forces have been accused of targeting the ISIS-fighting Kurds in Syria and have recently launched raids on Kurdish PKK militants in Iraq. These developments, together with burgeoning refugee camps in Turkey, are seen as serious sources of instability and threats especially to Syrian Kurds.
Aylan’s father is, no doubt, laden with enormous sense of regret but we must understand the desperate circumstances that force refugees to risk their lives.
We also need to understand who created those circumstances and how the situation in Syria developed into a humanitarian crisis.
The Free Syrian Army was formed in August of 2011 by army deserters based in Turkey. The Western and Gulf Arab backers of the Syrian opposition encouraged it to grow and merge with other regional armed forces.
As early as 2012, the American Defense Intelligence Agency was fully aware that the Syrian opposition included known Islamist terrorist groups such as the Salifists and Al-Qaeda, but despite this knowledge, they continued to arm and fund the Syrian insurgencies in the hope of toppling the Assad regime.
It is widely accepted amongst the analysts that the chaos created by the resultant civil war led to the rise and strengthening of ISIS in Syria.
In addition to President Assad’s barrel bombs, the Syrian civilians have had the great misfortune of falling victims to the illegal airstrikes conducted by the US and its regional and NATO allies in their country.
In complete violation of Syrian national sovereignty and international law, the airstrikes continue as part of a two-pronged war designed by the US and its allies to weaken the Syrian government and defeat friends-turned-foes ISIS militants.
There is little doubt that the misguided American and European policies have contributed significantly to the creation of millions of refugees in Syria, Iraq. Afghanistan and Libya.
Desperate Yemenis will soon add to the rising tide of refugees turning up at Europe’s doorsteps.
America’s greatest ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, is continuing its illegal war in Yemen; bombing and starving the Yemenis with arms and logistical support provided by the US.
Europe should now face the consequences of its blind support for the US’s foreign policies and deal with the human cost of their misguided strategy in the Middle East and North Africa.
But how about New Zealand: why should we have to respond to the current refugee crisis?
We have a moral obligation, as a member of the United Nations, to respond to the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our eyes. In addition, we are also involved in the foreign meddling in the Middle East that has done nothing but to strengthen the hands of ISIS.
The decision to take part in the war in the Middle East obliges us to also take responsibility for the consequences of that war.
But what about the argument that we cannot afford to take on more refugees and that we should look after our own needy people first?
It is a shame that people who make this argument did not apply it to the deployment of our troops to the Middle East.
The cost of sending our soldiers to the Middle East for two years happens to be exactly the same cost as doubling our refugee quota; $60m.
On the face of it, $60m seems like a lot of money, but don’t forget that we are spending half as much on the flag referendum alone. The total cost of a new flag is estimated at $70m.
Then there are our government’s subsidies and various tax credits to big businesses that, by comparison, will dwarf Government’s required contribution to the refugee crisis.
Simply put, the money argument doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny because we are asking the government to get their priorities right, not to spend more money.
Incidentally, that reorganisation of priorities includes addressing the needs of our own people, who may not be facing the same life-threating dangers as some refugees do, but certainly deserve to have their needs addressed too.
Furthermore, the cost of resettling refugees in New Zealand does not take into account the potential benefits and contributions that will be made by this group in the future.
It will not surprise me to learn that many of the current refugees are highly educated and skilled people, surgeons, engineers, academics etc., who will be able to offer their talents and skills, paid-for by their home country, to the benefit of our society.
Refugee families are usually highly motivated to make the best of the precious opportunities that are given to them. Our own Prime Minister, a son of a refugee, is a good example.
But how about cultural clashes, and the possibility of Muslim fanatics stirring up the same problems here as they have elsewhere?
Yes, the people who will arrive here will have a different culture, just like I have and just like the Dutch, the British, the Fijians and many other minority groups have. The Kiwi culture is already a mosaic of many cultures; refugees’ cultures will only add more colour and vibrancy to our country.
Also, let’s not forget that these refugees are fleeing extremism; their prime goal is to seek safety and peace for their families. Social cohesion is only threatened when minorities are marginalised and discriminated against. It is our response, as a society, which will determine whether we will end up with a pluralistic society or become a racially and religiously intolerant nation.
The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and law-abiding people who make excellent citizens in their adopted countries; don’t let Islamophobic ideas persuade you otherwise.
Here in Canterbury, we were so grateful to the international community for helping us in the aftermath of the earthquakes. With the Alpine fault running up the spine of our country, many of us might have to look for outside help again.
Let’s do our fair share and help those who desperately need our help now. There are really no excuses for not doubling our quota.
Donna Mojab (Donna Miles) is a British-born, Iranian-bred, New Zealand citizen with a strong interest in human rights, justice and equality issues. Mojab worked as a senior mathematics lecturer in the United Kingdom for 10 years before migrating to New Zealand as a new mother. Mojab currently works and resides in Christchurch.