Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1311, (8 - 21 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Syrian clouds over Hangzhou 

The G20 nations meeting at Hangzhou in China said this week that they wanted to see fewer Middle Eastern refugees, but offered few suggestions how this might be achieved, reports Dina Ezzat 

Al-Ahram Weekly

“The worldwide massive forced displacement of people, unprecedented since the Second World War, especially those generated from violent conflicts, is a global concern,” read a statement adopted by the G20 group of countries at the end of this week’s two-day gathering in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou. 

However, neither the final communique adopted at the summit meeting nor the meetings between the leaders of the world’s top economies offered clear ideas on how to solve the plight of those who have been displaced or have fled abroad in search of refuge. 

“The issue of refugees is becoming a real source of worry for Europe in general,” stated one Cairo-based European diplomat.  

According to this and other Egypt and Europe-based diplomats, the issue of the refugees is not just about the accommodation of the on-going flows of people, but is also about dealing with the humanitarian ordeal of refugees drowning at sea, the consequences of illegal immigration at a time of serious economic challenges for European countries, and, for some, the possible cultural consequences of letting in further refugees. 

“Let us be frank, there is no great hospitality in some European countries, especially in the south of Europe, when it comes to letting in more Muslims who could become fully-fledged citizens of these countries and walk around wearing veils or burkinis on beaches,” said another Cairo-based European diplomat. 

In Germany, one of the European countries that has opened its doors to the refugees, chancellor Angela Merkel has come under fire from the political opposition for what it describes as her “too generous” policy of openness towards refugees who are mainly from Syria. 

Ahead of her arrival in China for the G20 Summit, Merkel offered a strong defence of her policy initiated last year to open the door to hundreds of thousands of refugees mostly fleeing from conflicts in the Middle East. 

“We did not reduce benefits for anyone in Germany as a result of the aid for the refugees. In fact, we actually saw social improvements in some areas,” Merkel said.  

In China, Merkel, who risks paying a high political price for her pro-immigrant policy, met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss bilateral issues including the situation in Syria. 

Turkey is hosting close to 3.5 million Syrian refugees, and according to European and other diplomats it is expected to play the role of a shield for Europe from expected new flows of refugees from Syria 

The US and Russia have failed to close a deal on reducing the violence in Syria as a result of the civil war in the country after the crushing of calls for democracy during the heyday of the Arab Spring in 2011.  

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva ahead of the G20 meeting in the hope of agreeing a deal that could be taken to world leaders in Hangzhou. 

A subsequent one-on-one meeting in China between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama failed to find a breakthrough despite the 90-minute session that the US president said was “candid, blunt and business-like”. 

This meant that during the China meetings world leaders including Merkel had to remind Erdogan that under a deal struck in March Turkey had agreed to help the EU curb migrant flows in return for billions of euros, visa-free travel for Turks in the bloc, and the fast-tracking of EU accession talks. 

Turkey assured the Europeans that it would uphold its side of the bargain on Saturday, despite repeated threats over the past few months that it could pull out of the agreement. The G20 nations’ worry over the flow of refugees was already evident during the summit last year in Turkey. 

European diplomats say that since then there has been no halt to the flow of refugees. Some have argued that this is unsustainable, either because of the economic pressure that comes with the already slowing world economy or because of the growing sensitivity over what one diplomat in Brussels said was the “Islamisation of Europe.”  

This was “giving rise to the growth of extreme-right parties” not just in Europe but also in the US where Republican Party presidential elections candidate Donald Trump has been adopting a harsh stance on followers of the Muslim faith, the diplomat said. 

EU President Donald Tusk said during the G20 meeting that Europe was “close to the limit” on its ability to accept new waves of refugees and urged the broader international community to shoulder its share of the burden. 

As the leaders of the G20 nations were getting ready to leave China with a statement that called for “global concerted efforts in addressing the effects, protection needs and root causes of the refugee crisis and to share in the burdens associated with it,” at least 40 people were reported killed in Syria by attacks carried out by the Islamic State (IS) group targeting government-controlled areas. 

As European and other Western diplomats in the region have noted, both Syria and Libya are becoming frustrating situations to follow. They said it had been easier for the leaders meeting in China to discuss highly controversial files like trade protection and shared responsibilities to decrease global warming than the Middle Eastern refugee crisis. 

The situation in the Middle East, especially in Syria, is said to have been a key issue on the agendas of all bilateral meetings held between the world leaders, whether members of the G20 group or invitees. But for the most part the talks were inconclusive. 

One senior Arab diplomat said he expected that the same leaders, with the exception of Obama whose term in office ends in January, would meet next year for the G20 Summit with the situation in Syria and the refugee crisis still pending. 

The crisis might even get worse, he said, if the political and military mismanagement of the situation in Libya was exacerbated, not to mention the unexpected hiccups in other countries in the region and the failed coup in Turkey.

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