Footage of poor migrants flooding European streets has been aired in the last couple of days by all the major TV stations around the world. Most of those came from Syria, forced to leave their homeland due to the bitter armed conflict that has been raging for five years. They leave their homes because they are getting attacked by anti-government forces, and they leave because they don’t want to put up with the tyranny of jihadists.
This is what I’ve learned during my recent trip to the capital of Syria – Damascus. Due to the number of refugees seeking asylum the population of the city has tripled, reaching a whooping 7 million people, which constitutes one third of Syria’s population.
The city was alert and watchful: soldiers at check points were meticulously checking vehicles, every single office, store or school was guarded by massive concrete blocks, as if to remind me of the very real terrorist threat. But life here hasn’t betrayed it’s usual flow, shops and malls are open, waiting for clients, while city parks were still hiding passersby from the scorching sun.
Local newspapers reported the beginning of a new season at the Syrian Metropolitan Opera and the readiness of the country to host the national football championship.
Regular Syrians do not leave the impression of a demoralized people, even though all of them are fairly concerned with the hardships that this war has brought upon them. The Western media has been repeating time and time against that that the Damascus regime is “on the verge of collapse”, but these people have a different opinion.
The “revolutionary fighters” have been shelling cities and carrying out terrorist attacks for years but they haven’t merged into anything resembling a single coherent force. The fighters’ Western sponsors have been repeating the notion that “Assad should leave” regardless.
It is obvious that if the war in Syria should be carried on there will be even more death and destruction, more suffering of the civilian population, which will make the ranks of would-be refugees even more vast. According to the Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade Hammam al–Jazairi each and every immigrant is costly for Syria, each of them costing the government 7000 dollars in economic damage. People are selling their property, every single thing they’ve earned to trade it all for dollars, which has affected the exchange rate of the Syrian lira.
It is clear that the origins of this mass migration is the ongoing confrontation between the government forces and radical Islamists supported from abroad. This produces a constant stream of people fleeing for Europe, which has already provoked heated debates within the EU.
Therefore, the question of a political settlement of the conflict in Syria, which has been stressed as a viable option by Moscow, takes even greater urgency. Time can only tell if Western politicians start to make more sense in negotiations when they are presented with a challenge like the current refugee crisis. But time plays a key role here since the vast flow of migrants from the Middle East, especially from Syria, can totally destroy the EU economy, if a coherent answer is not found soon.
Yuri Zinin, Senior Research Fellow at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.