September 12th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

FAMILY AND SOCIETY They don't want diversity but to impose conformity

CANBERRA OBSERVED Young Nats jump aboard generational juggernaut

TRADE UNIONS Why royal commissioner declined to step down

RESEARCH Spin on the contraceptive pill a bit hard to swallow

LIFE ISSUES Singer escapes Fisher's net in euthanasia debate

HISTORY OF INDONESIA Suharto's "New Order" a period of stability

CULTURE Academic centres turn on Western civilisation

FAMILY LIFE A father's presence in the home: part II

OBITUARY Historian Robert Conquest documented the horrors of Stalinism

PUBLIC HEALTH UN knows: harm reduction does not reduce harm

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Witness to Marriage Day, August 1

CINEMA On the rough road away from loneliness: Last Cab to Darwin

BOOK REVIEW Good science, specious argumentation


The coup against Tony Abbott

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COVER STORY Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, September 12, 2015

The Arab Spring began in 2011 with waves of youth demonstrations and protests aimed at overthrowing the Middle East’s anciens règimes. Since then, civil wars have created a mounting tide of refugees and migrants from the Middle East, as well as from north and central Africa, looking for peace and security in Western Europe.

Arab world must help fix Syria and Libya crises

Last year, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 568,000 applications for asylum were lodged inside the European Union, quite apart from a far larger number of applications lodged in countries in the Middle East, such as Lebanon and Turkey, which are the first destinations for many people fleeing civil strife.

Up to August this year, almost the same number had already been lodged, and the number of people trying to enter Europe is accelerating. The German Government has said that it expects to handle 800,000 asylum applications in 2015.

There have been distressing scenes of hundreds of people – mainly of African origin – trying to smuggle themselves aboard lorries in Calais to get to Britain, and thousands being rescued on small boats sailing across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Italy, and from Turkey to Greece.

Apart from these, many more have moved overland, across the porous borders of Turkey into Eastern and Central Europe, headed for the prosperous countries of Northern Europe, including the Nordic states.

Europe is witnessing the largest movement of people since the 1940s, when millions of displaced people from Central and Eastern Europe were fleeing the communist regimes established by the Soviet Union after World War II.

There is understandable resentment in Greece and Italy, the two countries that are the first ports of call for asylum seekers and migrants, that these less prosperous countries are having to accept the lion’s share of asylum seekers.

Mounting resentment

There is also resentment at the fact that people smugglers have been making huge sums from carrying desperate people across the sea and then dumping them in Western Europe.

Efforts to build a coordinated response in Western Europe have been largely unsuccessful. One of the principles of the European Union was free movement across borders. This is now being put to the test, as hundreds of thousands of people cross from southern Europe northwards.

Countries like Britain, Ireland and Denmark have always been exempt from the EU’s lack of border controls.

Other EU countries are now looking at measures to restrict the movement of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

However, a proposal by European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker that the nations of the EU accept binding quotas to share out asylum seekers from Italy and Greece was totally rejected by EU leaders, leaving a vacuum still to be filled.

The prosperity of Western Europe is undoubtedly a “pull factor”, attracting people from central Africa as well as the war-torn countries of North Africa and the Middle East.

But until the political, military and security situation is resolved in North Africa and the Middle East, millions of people will continue to live in squalor in countries like Lebanon, Egypt and Turkey.

The most urgent steps that need to be taken are to re-establish stable government in Libya and Syria, two of the key countries responsible for the exodus to Europe, and build economies which provide jobs for the region’s surging youth population.

In Libya, an Islamist government in the capital, Tripoli, is fighting a more secular force, based around Benghazi, while hundreds of militias, some aligned to Islamic State, use weapons captured during the collapse of the Gaddafi regime to reduce the country to anarchy.

As the Western allies effectively destroyed the Gaddafi regime, they now must reassert themselves to end the chaos in the country, in cooperation with the largest regional power, Egypt, which is pro-Western.

The situation in Syria appears intractable. But the Western powers need to exercise whatever influence they have with the rebels to bring them to the negotiating table with the Assad regime, to end the civil war.

The position is complicated by the fact that Islamic State has captured large amounts of Syrian territory.

One factor that has not been taken into consideration is that the Arab League – a body that is effectively led by Saudi Arabia but includes Arab countries from both the Middle East and North Africa – has failed completely to end the political and military crises in the region.

As the wealth of Saudi Arabia and the oil states of the Arab world flows largely from Western Europe and the United States, pressure needs to be put on the Arab world to solve problems that are largely of its own making.

Until the Arab world takes some ownership of the crises in Libya and Syria, and attempts seriously to resolve them, the appalling loss of life and the mounting tide of refugees and migrants from the region will continue.

Peter Westmore is national president of the National Civic Council.

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