An attack on Afrin is an attack on refugees

Part of the crowd protesting Turkey's attack on Afrin at the Sydney opera House on January 28.

The Turkish government’s attacks on the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria’s (DFNS) Afrin Canton in northern Syria are an attack on refugees.

The approach of the Kurdish-led forces to the Syrian refugee crisis, in which millions of people have become displaced, should be an inspiration.

Western television cameras have captured footage of people taking the dangerous voyage across the Mediterranean Sea seeking safety in Europe. But thousands more are also fleeing to Rojava.

In 2013 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it had rarely seen such a flood of refugees as those fleeing Syria and seeking safety across the Tigris River in the autonomous Kurdish regions. Aid organisations rushing to provide support gave similar accounts.

Refugees fleeing to Europe are met by naval fleets, fences and walled camps, accompanied by Western media stoking right-wing nationalism with commentary that Europe is being flooded by people who will wreck social systems and economies.

In Afrin, refugees have been welcomed with residency permits that give them the same rights as citizens. About half the population of Afrin consists of refugees who have fled ISIS or other conflicts in the region.

Turkey was able to establish itself as the gatekeeper for Europe and in return Europe has turned a blind eye to its human rights abuses.

In a world where wealthy countries — including Australia — are constantly treating the refugee crisis as a problem that needs to be stopped with fences and military armadas, Afrin is an alternative to be fought for.

It is an alternative where people are given homes, economic support, safety and equal rights, including full political rights, such as participation in local democratic structures.   

Afrin can do this while struggling for survival in Northern Syria, with resources, especially medicine, stretched thin. Yet Australia, with significant more resources, is turning people back to danger and forcing others to suffer for years in offshore detention centres. Those who are allowed into Australia are often treated like second class citizens, with many denied political rights and the right to work and study.

Now Turkey’s air strikes are targeting the areas where many refugees live in Afrin. Many are being forced to leave their homes, turned into rubble yet again, and continue their search for safety.

The comparison between the DNFS’s treatment of refugees in Afrin and Australia’s is stark. In northern Syria an alternative vision and solution for the refugee crisis is being fought for.

Refugee activists should oppose Turkey’s attack on Afrin and the Rojava Revolution as it is an attack on refugees and an alternative to Australia’s cruel system.

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