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Dolores López Fernández, Professor of Geography at the University of Navarra.

Fleeing from war, migrations in the Middle East


Tue, 20 Oct 2015 13:13:00 +0000 Published in Hoy Extremadura, Diari de Tarragona, Diario de Navarra

We all still have in our minds the tragic image of Aylan's inert little body on the beach, with his red T-shirt and his new shoes. This photo has been a turning point in world public opinion regarding the plight of the people fleeing Syria. There is no doubt about the crucial role that the media are playing not only in the articulation of the imaginaries that citizens have about this reality, but also in the mobilization of civil society and in the, often subsequent, reaction of the states. In this article I would like to make some reflections and provide some data to help contextualize the process of flight that the Syrian population is undergoing.

In the globalized world in which we live, intense migratory flows are a characteristic grade . But, within these migratory processes, it is necessary to highlight the special status of people fleeing from highly conflictive areas, as is the case of Syria. Every person who is forced to leave their country and seek protection in a foreign country should be treated as a refugee, with the protection that this dramatic status requires, in the framework of protection drawn by the Geneva Convention, ratified, let us not forget, by the vast majority of countries in the world. When dealing with this status, it is therefore important not to mix up the realities of economic migration and forced migration core topic .

On the other hand, we must be aware that it is difficult to have accurate information about this reality due to the characteristics of the phenomenon itself. Through institutions that help refugees (UNHCR, Red Cross...) or organizations that control borders (Frontex, Ministries of the Interior...) we have an approximation of the reality, albeit with minimal values. The population registered by the UNHCR differentiates between refugees, people who have left their country, and displaced persons, people who have fled their place of origin residency program, but not their country. The last UNHCR's latest report on global refugee trends in 2014 points out some data that should be recalled to contextualize the current call for help from the Syrian population to Europe:

1. Syrian refugees, 3,875,866 (end of 2014), are the group most amount and account for 25% of the world's refugees served by UNHCR. To this group who have left Syria, we must add the 7,632,500 internally displaced persons.
2. The countries that are welcoming on their territory this population fleeing the bombs and destruction of war are mostly their
neighbors: Turkey (1,557,899), Lebanon (1,147,494), Jordan (623,112), Iraq (234,196) and a little further away, Egypt (138,381). In sixth place are Germany (40,994) and Sweden (34,285). Spain, at issue 25 on the list of countries had 1,336 Syrian refugees at the end of 2014. The absence in this list of the rich neighbors of the Arabian Peninsula is striking.
3. If we calculate the weight that this population represents in the overall population of each country, we see that in the countries where the arrival of their population has the greatest impact are the small border countries, Lebanon (232 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants) and Jordan (87%). In Turkey they account for 21% and in Germany 2.6%.

But between the data of 2014 and the present, the status in the area has worsened in a very important way due to the worsening of living conditions in the refugee camps inside Syria, overcrowding and problems of water and food supply that reach in some cases death by starvation, the saturation of the refugee camps in neighboring countries, and the intensification of the conflict with the advance of the Islamic State in Syrian territory. This explains, among other reasons, that although the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, it was not until a few months ago that migratory flows to Europe have intensified considerably. The drama of Syrian refugees began a long time ago, although it was only recently that they began to knock on our door.