Tue | May 23, 2017

Editorial: A new approach to Syria

Published:Monday | September 21, 2015 | 9:00 AM

The massive flow of migrants from Syria and elsewhere that now provides Europe with its greatest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War may appear distant and disconnected from Jamaica and the Caribbean, and a matter with which this region need not concern itself. That view is wrong.

For behind the bickering among European Union (EU) members over if, and how, they should allocate and accommodate the refugees is a larger humanitarian crisis, which even relatively poor countries such as our own have a moral obligation to, and can, help to alleviate. Further, this crisis is among the outcomes of political actions of some of our powerful friends, of whose resolution Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) can offer counsel.

To put this wave of migration to Europe into some context, the estimate is that so far this year, nearly half a million would-be refugees have crossed the Mediterranean by sea, approximately half of them from Syria. But there are also Libyans, Iraqis, Afghans, as well as people from elsewhere in the Middle East and Africa. Mostly, they are trying to escape war. Many, too, are running from the privation of poverty, seeking a better life.

 

ISLAMIC STATE ADVANTAGE

 

The greater focus is on the Syrians, the victims of four years of war between the forces of President Bashar al-Assad and myriad factions, including the so-called Islamic State (IS) extremists. Millions of Syrians have been displaced.

That war is at a stalemate, with no side capable of winning. But if anyone, at this time, has a non-military strategic advantage, it's IS. While the West, especially the United States, continues to insist that President Assad go as part of a political solution, the faction that gains most from this is IS.

The collapse of the Assad regime would likely confirm Syria, as is the case with Libya, and, increasingly, Yemen, as another of the region's failed states, paving the way for worsened chaos and IS's ascendancy, and providing another example of the potential for unintended consequences from Middle East interventions.

 

NEWAMERICAN-EUROPEAN APPROACH

 

IS's heightened confidence would likely translate to new military initiatives in Iraq and elsewhere in the region. In the circumstance, it would make sense that President Obama recalibrate his Syria policy, and he should be told so by CARICOM.

A new American-European approach should include recognising Russia and Iran's pivotal positions as key Assad supporters and, therefore, critical players to any political solution to the Syrian crisis. In that respect, the West may have to do a pragmatic walk-back from their sanctions and isolation of Russia and President Putin for support of eastern Ukraine separatists. That would be merely realpolitik - and of value to the millions of displaced Syrians.

In the meantime, the Caribbean, which has a century-old history of entertaining Syrian and Lebanese migrants, can do so again as part of its humanitarian response to the refugee crisis. Understandably, most territories can only entertain small numbers. But a broader initiative, with support and funding from the EU, the US and the United Nations, could including settling migrants in such population-deficit countries like Guyana, Suriname and Belize.