The year of 2015 has brought great humanitarian suffering to the borders of Europe. The conflict in Syria, as well as dire situations in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Eritrea, have triggered a wave of refugees seeking safe havens in Europe and elsewhere.
To reach these safe havens, people have travelled dangerous paths, with hundreds of thousands crossing the Mediterranean on overcrowded rubber boats. Thousands have died in the attempt. Those who reached their destination met a divided Europe, with some countries closing their borders and others opening their arms. In Norway, it took some time before the scale of the crisis dawned on us. When it did, however, we witnessed the most extensive mobilization of civil society in decades.
As the attention around the refugee-crisis made its peak this summer, the Facebook-group ‘Refugees Welcome to Norway’ was established in August to take a stand in the debate and show that the Norwegian people were willing to help and support refugees coming to Norway.
Today, the group has 86,000 members from all over the country, in addition to locally formed groups supporting the same cause. As refugees have arrived to Norway the last two months, people have brought food and clothes to reception centers in both Oslo and other Norwegian cities. People have donated money, and even offered their homes to newly arrived refugees when formal reception centers did not have capacity to offer them shelter.
In addition to offering help to the refugees who already have arrived, the people have demanded that Norway expands its pledge to accept 8,000 quota refugees in the next three years. As one of the richest countries in the world, many Norwegians feel that this number does not reflect our capacity to help people seeking refuge from war and persecution.
When the Norwegian Peace Council along with other organizations initiated a campaign for this pledge to be reevaluated in Parliament, our Facebook page got 10,000 supporters in less than two weeks. When we demonstrated for the cause in front of the Parliament in Oslo, over 2,500 people showed up to call on Norwegian politicians to take in more than 8,000 refugees. Several politicians promised to take our demands to the government.
Countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are hosting the vast majority of Syrian refugees, who live their lives in overcrowded refugee camps without knowing when or whether they will be able to return to their homes. Europe has been forced to take responsibility due to their relative proximity to Syria, but also take in others due to the thousands of non-Syrian refugees and migrants who cross into Europe daily.
Other parts of the world, however, has not been so quick to take responsibility. This undermines not only global solidarity with the refugees themselves, but the global, humanitarian responsibility anchored in international law.
Japan has been generous with financial donations to regions affected by the crisis, but has so far not pledged to take in any significant number of refugees. With the space and resources to a lot do more, this is not a policy Japan can subscribe to without undermining any ideal to be seen as a promoter of peace in the world.
What has become clear to the people of Norway over the cause of the last months is that refugees and migrants are not fleeing their homes due to some ulterior motive or murky agenda: they are people who were forced to flee, and they come seeking safety and dignity. Refugees simply want an opportunity to start over and provide a safe future for themselves and their family.
Japan has a responsibility to help these people, as much as Norway and the rest of Europe does. It does no good to speak of international borders in the same way we have done before. The world is smaller and to live in it we must live in it together.