We didn’t need the heart-wrenching image of a drowned child to alert us to the magnitude of the refugee crisis in Syria. Nor the images of chaos across Eastern Europe as those refugees lucky enough or wealthy enough to reach Europe tried to get to Germany, which has committed to taking 800,000 refugees.
We’ve known for years, as literally millions of Syrians have sought sanctuary from war in neighbouring countries. There are now nearly 2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, over 1.1 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan and even a quarter of a million in Iraq. It is those countries that have borne the responsibility of dealing with the results of a civil war in which Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia’s Putin regime and the Iranian theocracy, slaughtered his own population while fighting a collection of Islamist militants, including Islamic State.
There is one group of regional countries that has failed to make any contribution to dealing with the refugee burden: the Gulf states. As the Lowy Institute’s Dr Rodger Shanahan correctly pointed out this week, Gulf States like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates have, while happy to take in millions of poor foreign workers, accepted exactly zero Syrian refugees — a remarkable outcome given these states have been enthusiastic funders of opposition groups in the civil war, including Islamic State.
Of course, even if the Gulf states did something approaching their fair share it would not resolve the issue. The only solution can be a global one, in which Syrians are given sanctuary while a political solution is negotiated to end the civil war and establish a government that isn’t hell-bent on murdering its own population. That means countries such as Australia should be offering to share some of the burden of caring for displaced Syrians until they can return to their homeland.