The Ongoing Refugee Crisis

September 4, 2015

Photographs of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his small and lifeless frame washed up onto a Turkish beach, have forced the current refugee crisis onto front pages, the nightly news, and Facebook feeds across the world this week.

Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have been fleeing strife and persecution due to civil wars and the rise of the Islamic State (IS) in their home countries.


Their plight is connected to the larger humanitarian disaster fueled by ongoing religio-political violence going on elsewhere in the Middle East.

The largest numbers of refugees are coming to Europe from Syria which has entered its fifth year of civil war. The second largest group is coming from Eritrea which has one of the most repressive governments in the world where young men are subjected to an indefinite military draft. And then you have refugees coming from Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Mali, and Libya.

The world is currently seeing the largest number of displaced refugees since Word War II. There are currently over 50 million people who have fled war and conflict worldwide. This works out to over 32,000 people fleeing their homes every single day.

The current crisis in Syria has bled over its boarders into its neighbor Lebanon. Lebanon currently has more refugees per capita than any other country. One out of four people presently in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Since Lebanon has no refugee camps, Syrians are living among the population in over 1,500 locations.

The refugees flood out of Syria as people migrate into the country to join the Islamic State. The people joining IS come from a range of religious, cultural, national, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. The people migrating into Syria often speak about fighting for Muslims, about combating the Syrian regime, or about marrying a good Muslim. IS claims to have fighters from European countries including England, France, and Germany as well as the caucasus, the United States, and the Arab world.

IS’s fight in Syria – and in Iraq – is understood to be working towards an Islamic emirate that straddles the two countries. The group has been operating independently of other jihadist groups in the region, such as al Qaeda and its affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. It has had a tense relationship with other rebel groups fighting the forces of Syrian President Bashar al Assad. IS has regularly attacked fellow rebels and abused civilian supporters of the Syrian opposition. The largest cause of tension appears to come from IS telling all other jihadist groups worldwide that they must accept its supreme authority.

IS seeks to eradicate all obstacles to restoring what they understand to be God’s rule on Earth, and the organization seeks to defend the Muslim community, or umma, against apostates and infidels.

The organization views confrontation with the US-led NATO coalition as being a harbinger of an end times described in Islamic apocalyptic prophecies. IS has attached great importance to the Syrian city of Dabiq, near Aleppo. Tellingly, it named its propaganda magazine after the town, and had a frenzied celebration when it conquered Dabiq’s strategically unimportant plains at great cost to the organization. The Prophet reportedly said that the armies of Rome will set up their camp in Dabiq. The armies of Islam will meet them, and Dabiq will be Rome’s Battle of Waterloo.

IS has been seeking to bring on that battle by goading the international coalition to confront it there. The Prophetic narration that foretells the Dabiq battle refers to the enemy as Rome. Who “Rome” is, now that the pope has no army, remains a matter of debate. Many sources within the Islamic State suggest that Rome might mean any infidel army, and the United States will do just fine.

The Islamic State holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as an article of faith, and that means it is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration while remaining confident that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to its Prophetic model.

All of that matters little to the millions of people displaced by the Islamic State. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has said that the current refugee crisis hitting Europe is “a defining moment.”

The United Nations says the European Union must accept 200,000 refugees as part of a “common strategy” to replace its country-by-country response to the sudden surge of refugees — most of whom are trying to reach Germany.

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