We must not close our hearts to refugees – it won’t make us any safer

In the wake of callous acts of terror committed in Paris on Friday, now more than ever is a time to stand up for human rights and unite against the perpetrators of hate, violence and brutality wherever they are from and whomever they target.

Those who commit acts of terror aim to inspire fear, cause division and cow us all into abandoning our most vital and cherished values. It is therefore critical that the response to such atrocities is grounded in human rights, the rule of law and justice. We must stand together in solidarity to oppose those that seek to attack these principles.

On Monday, Barack Obama called upon world leaders at Ankara not respond to the Paris attacks by turning their backs on Syrian refugees. 

‘The people who are fleeing Syria are the most harmed by terrorism. They are the most vulnerable as a consequence of civil war and strife. They are parents. They are children. They are orphans and it is very important... that we do not close our hearts to these victims of such violence and somehow start equating the issue of refugees with the issue of terrorism.’

Barack Obama, President of the United States

On the same day, the UN Security Council received a report detailing the ongoing indiscriminate violence against Syrians by all parties to the conflict – including the use of barrel bombs, shelling and car bombs – which has claimed the lives of a quarter of a million people. More than half the population has been driven out of the country.

Many of the abuses Syrian refugees are fleeing have been perpetrated by those that claim responsibility for the Paris attacks. However, refugees are also fleeing torture and persecution at the hands of their own government and many other actors in the vicious conflict that has gripped the country.

Syria is not alone – this tragic pattern is reflected across the globe as children, women and men are fleeing human rights abuses, seeking sanctuary and safety.

More than half of the refugees and other migrants who have this year risked life and limb to reach Europe by sea are Syrian. Nonetheless, by far the greater share of responsibility for hosting refugees from this conflict has fallen to neighbouring countries, most particularly Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

So far Europe has fallen woefully short in its response to the plight of refugees. Our latest report Fear and Fences: Europe’s Approach to Keeping Refugees at Bay details how at Europe’s external borders, those fleeing brutal conflicts and cruel regimes such as in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea have been turned away often by violent and unlawful means.

Doing so has not made anyone safer.

No puede ser más gráfico pic.twitter.com/LO8SlSLCtg

— Raquel Martí (@raquel_unrwace) November 14, 2015

It has forced people into the hands of smugglers and onto dangerous sea and land journeys, on which thousands have died. It has exposed women and children to heightened risks of sexual violence and exploitation. It has allowed a situation of chaos at and within Europe's borders because of the absence of effective reception arrangements for those seeking asylum.

I witnessed a small fraction of that chaos last month in Hungary, shortly before that country sealed off its borders to refugees. I met and walked with hundreds of refugees – some left with nothing, others struggling under the weight of the meagre possessions with which they had fled.

Among them were many young children clutching their favourite cuddly toys. Those I met were tired, often confused, but still with hope that they would find a sustainable place of safety for themselves and their families.

Today, Scotland welcomes a small number of Syrian refugee families through the UK's Syrian resettlement programme. This offers a vital lifeline for these new arrivals. It also constitutes an act of solidarity with all victims of terror and defiance against all perpetrators of brutality and violence.

Our front page: As the first Syrian refugees arrive in Scotland tomorrow, we'd like to offer them a warm welcome pic.twitter.com/1zZ7fazcbS

— The National (@ScotNational) November 16, 2015

But the UK along with others in Europe needs to do much more. Safe and legal routes are urgently needed for refugees - both those who have arrived in Europe and those who still need to seek safety on this continent. All European countries need to join together to ensure an effective response, which through properly functioning reception facilities would also offer an opportunity for countries to screen asylum-seekers as is done, for example, on resettlement programmes.

When we respond to such callous acts – in Paris, Beirut, Ankara, Garissa, or Chibok – we are all confronted with a choice: whether to respond with compassion or fear, solidarity or division.

For Amnesty, the choice is clear.

Compassion, solidarity and commitment to the value of human life and dignity has always been and will always be our choice.

By sharing responsibility for refugees both within and without Europe's borders, through the provision of safe and legal routes for refugees, the UK can exemplify that same choice while helping our partners in Europe to bring order to the chaos of this crisis.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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