America’s Role in the Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Sarah Taylor

50 million refugees now live worldwide – the worst refugee crisis the world has faced since the end of World War II. These refugees hail from countries such as Libya, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen. 1 in 5 of these refugees are Syrian. Countries like Jordan and Lebanon have made remarkable short-term steps towards providing humanitarian aid to millions of these refugees, with minimal foreign assistance. However, according to Brookings analyst Maha Yahya, “There is a sense of despair, particularly in Jordan and Lebanon, where being a refugee means living in limbo: unable to work, surviving on aid, and having one’s movements restricted. There is simply no prospect of establishing any kind of future for oneself or one’s family.” Many Syrian refugees are well educated and worked as doctors, lawyers, and engineers in Syria, yet, as they wait in refugee camps, their talents go to waste.

Syria’s four-year civil war has reversed all development gains in areas such as education, healthcare, and food security. 80% of Syrians face poverty. This “massive new underclass of impoverished citizens”, according to Yahya, jeopardizes “the future of generations, placing some at risk of radicalization. Refugees and internally displaced persons are living in a state of exception, pushed to the fringes of society, unable to reconstitute their lives or make a gainful living.” Jordan, Lebanon, and the rest of the world need long-term solutions for these refugees so that they may find jobs, begin new lives in their host countries, and avoid radicalization by groups like the Islamic State.

The brunt of the crisis has fallen to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. However, many more have fled beyond the Middle East to safe havens in Europe. Boat after boat of refugees has washed upon the shores of Europe, seeking safety and security within its boundaries. Many hope to end their journeys in countries like Sweden and Germany. By the end of the year, millions of refugees will seek new homes there rather than sit in squalid, underfunded refugee camps or wait for foreign intervention to end their four-year civil war.

Many in the United States and in other non-European countries have called this crisis a “European problem” but few to none have taken in Syrian refugees. As of September 2015 Canada had taken 1,074, Australia 2,200, and Brazil 2,000. The Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have taken none.

The United States has taken in only 1,500 Syrians throughout the entire conflict. The main countries from which the United States currently accepts refugees include Iraq, Bhutan, and Somalia. In late September, the Obama administration announced that it will increase the number of refugees the U.S. accepts per year from 70,000 to 100,000 by 2017. New York Times journalists, Michael Gordon, Allison Smale, and Rick Lyman assert that the increase “falls far short of the global demand for resettlement from people who continue to flee turmoil in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.” Eleanor Acer, director of the refugee protection program at Human Rights First pressed the United States government to accept 100,000 Syrians alone in the next year. “This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II.”

Thus far, President Obama has taken a policy of disengagement in the Levant, ordering airstrikes on ISIS and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s government strongholds, but refusing to put military boots on the ground. As Russia has begun bombing Syrian anti-government forces, some of whom the United States is supporting and training, Obama’s critics ask, how many more beheadings will it take for on-the-ground American intervention? The opposite extreme of the political spectrum demands America remove itself from all Middle Eastern and European affairs.

As the situation in Syria and the surrounding region remains chaotic and violent and winter approaches for the millions of refugees in Europe, the United States must act. The United States should send processing teams to help European countries register the new arrivals. It should also set clear quotas for Syrian refugees, airlift people out of refugee camps quickly, and simplify registration procedures in order to prevent an exodus of refugees to the US. The U.S. should also send funds to the, woefully underfunded, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to improve refugee camps already within Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon. On the grassroots level, churches, community groups, families, and mosques should sponsor and resettle refugees.

The only permanent solution to the refugee crisis is to end the war in Syria. However, an end to the war may be years in the future. As the United States funds “moderate” rebel groups like the mostly defunct Free Syrian Army, Iran and Russia support President Bashar al-Assad, while the Islamic State still controls huge swaths of territory in both Iraq and Syria. While each side spends billions on their respective war efforts, the conflict continues and refugees flee the region in droves.

The world needs, not just an American, but also a global response. In the words of Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General, “This is a human tragedy that requires a determined collective political response. It is a crisis of solidarity, not a crisis of numbers.” While Western intervention in Syria’s war could make the situation worse, “not acting was itself a form of action”, and that it has led directly to the battlefield escalation and refugee outflows that the West tried to avoid.”

Featured Image Source Here From the DW.

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