The massive influx of asylum seekers fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Eastern Europe has had countries scrambling to find housing for the refugees and ignited a political debate about how to respond to the crisis. The United Nations has called for a “common strategy” among nations. Antonio Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for refugees, is asking for the European Union to institute “a mass relocation programme” that would see member countries working together to admit up to 200,000 asylum seekers into the EU.
The largest amount of refugees are Syrian, fleeing their home country which is currently embroiled in a civil war that has claimed the lives of more than 240,000 people. The asylum seekers plight has recieved international attention, especially after photographs were published of deceased three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a Syrian refugee who perished along with his brother and mother after their boat sank off the coast of Turkey.
The crisis has prompted an outpouring of support from world leaders, including British prime minister David Cameron who pledged that Britain would fulfill it’s “moral responsibilities” in regards to the crisis and Pope Francis who announced that the Vatican would provide shelter for two families of refugees and urged Catholic institutions across Europe to do the same.
The Pope urged Catholics to aid the refugees, saying “Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees who are fleeing death by war and by hunger, and who are on a path toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be neighbours to the smallest and most abandoned, to give them concrete hope… May every parish, every religious community, every monastery, every sanctuary in Europe host a family, starting with my diocese of Rome”.
Finland has seen a dramatic increase in asylum seekers over the past few weeks, with officials predicting that the number of refugees who attempt to gain sanctuary in the country will reach 30,000 by year’s end. This number is more than eight times that of the 3,600 refugees who attempted to gain asylum in Finland in 2014. In response, Finnish prime minister Juha Sipila requested that citizens refrain from hostile comments and be as helpful as they can.
“I ask everybody to stop all hate speech and concentrate on taking care of people that are fleeing from war zones, so that they feel safe and welcome here in Finland,” he said, also noting that refugees deserve “a human treatment and genuine welcome greeting from us Finns.”
In an extraordinary act of personal charity, Mr Sipila also offered his own home in the town of Kempele as housing for asylum seekers beginning on January 1st, 2016. The residence has been unused by the Sipila family since they moved to Helsinki, the nation’s capital. “It is easy to outsource everything to the society. Still, society has limited possibilities.” Mr Sipila said. “The more citizen activity we can find to this matter, the better.”
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has also indicated that he is prepared to accept more Syrian refugees, but insisted that the total number of asylum seekers Australia accepts per annum (currently 13,750) will not increase, saying “No, we are proposing to take more people from this region as part of our very substantial commitment.” The Abbott Government’s policies on asylum seekers have been heavily criticised by many, the most recent being the New York Times which published an editorial on September 3rd labelling the methods as “unconscionable”. Mr Abbott has defended the policies however, claiming that the only way to prevent the deaths of refugees at sea was to discourage asylum seekers from attempting the trip in the first place which, he asserts, is what his policies do. In an interview with ABC Goulburn Murray radio on Friday, he said “As long as people think that if they can get here they can stay here, we’ll have the illegal trade, we’ll have the people smugglers in business and we’ll have the tragedies at sea.”
The crisis shows no sign of stopping any time soon and as thousands upon thousands of desperate people fleeing bloodshed cry out for help, the international community continues to struggle to provide an answer.