Arab League must step up to help solve the Syrian crisis

Enough is enough, says Khalaf Al Habtoor. The world must act decisively to help refugees

A woman holds her child as she and other migrants arrive by bus at a refugee transit camp after crossing into Croatia via Serbia.  (David Ramos / Getty Images)
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Everyone is talking about the refugee crisis overwhelming Europe. Everyone apart from the Arab League. To date it has had little to say on the topic and, as far as I can tell, has no plan to solve the problem.

Why is Dr Nabil Elarabi, the League’s secretary general, not holding crisis meetings with foreign ministers and jetting around the region to find ways of preventing Syrians and Iraqis from being treated so badly?

Surely he sees their plight. The lucky ones have tents or blankets. Most are sleeping on pavements, unable to wash for days or weeks. Women are giving birth in the street. Mothers run out of baby milk. Diabetics have nowhere to keep their insulin refrigerated. Many report that the little money they had was stolen.

The very least the Arab League should be doing is finding temporary refuge for these unfortunate people. It should also be pressing hard to solve the root causes of this exodus.

The majority of the refugees are Syrians fleeing war and terrorism. Scared and tired, they trudge on hoping there is a place where they can live in peace. Instead, thousands have been met in Europe with barbed wire fences and riot police wielding batons, tear gas and water cannon.

The images of a Syrian man holding his young son being deliberately tripped by a callous camerawoman or that of an anguished man seen carrying his child with blood streaming down his head do not belong to Europe in the 21st century.

Were we not given to believe that we would never again witness such examples of inhumanity on European soil?

That said there are European states – notably Germany, Austria and Sweden – that are doing what they can to handle this enormous influx of humanity even as others refuse to call terrorised people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan “refugees”.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary General, said he was shocked at the way refugees are being treated. Pope Francis has demanded that every Catholic parish or institution accept a refugee family but he is facing a rebellion from those who believe “today’s refugee could be tomorrow’s terrorist”.

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has shown exemplary leadership. Together with Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, she is calling for an EU-wide quota system that would oblige member states to absorb refugees according to their capacity in terms of GDP and unemployment statistics against strong objections from some member states.

Bashar Al Assad says the refugee crisis is all the fault of the West for arming opposition forces. Naturally, he will say anything to lift the blame from his own shoulders. If he had heeded his own people by stepping down in 2011 instead of slaughtering them, none of this mess would have happened.

No one emerges from this with a halo and certainly not Barack Obama whose lack of leadership has allowed the Syrian conflict to fester into a terrorist swamp.

European leaders have done nothing other than make speeches and attend summits.

And as for the Arab world … well, what can I say?

I am not sure what is going on behind the scenes, but on the surface it appears that Arab leaderships – except those of the GCC, Jordan and Lebanon – have a blind spot on Syria.

It has taken a flood of refugees into Europe and a Russian weapons build-up in Syria to galvanise the UN into sending its envoy to Damascus to discuss peace proposals.

Plus, US secretary of state John Kerry appears open to discussions with his Russian counterpart on military solutions.

How long will we continue relying on foreign powers to save us? We did the right thing by intervening in Yemen and now the Houthi rebels are on the back foot. It is about time the Arab coalition turned its attention to Syria.

The Arab world needs a union that is strong and resourceful with a mandate to take action whenever the peace and security of our region is threatened. Otherwise, what is the Arab League other than an expensive mega-majlis?

Tens of thousands of Syrians at the mercy of European states go without food and shelter, their future uncertain. Enough.

It is the time for the Arab League to resume its duties and try to salvage our Arab honour.

Khalaf Al Habtoor is chairman of the Al Habtoor Group