Syrian Refugee Crisis
ALKIS KONSTANTINIDIS VIA NEWSWEEK
More than 250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in four-and-a-half years of armed conflict, which began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war. Some 11 million have been forced from their homes and 13.5 million are in need of dire humanitarian assistance as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule (including jihadist militants from the so called Islamic State) battle each other. As the conflict continues, a number of countries have opened their doors to refugees, though a select few are receiving the majority of them. Countries neighboring Syria are reaching a saturation point with regard to their abilities to absorb refugees. For example, the influx of refugees has increased Lebanon’s population by 25% and it now has the highest per capita number of refugees. Edward M. Gabriel, former U.S. Ambassador to Morocco and Vice Chairman of the American Task Force for Lebanon has said that this is a serious burden on Lebanon’s economy and Lebanon cannot afford to increase public debt.
The rapid influx of refugees has also put strains on nearly every part of the country: the economy, trade, public finance, health, education, safety, the labor market, infrastructure, traffic, and waste management. If the rest of the world can share in the burden of taking in refugees, then no single country would be unduly burdened, and both the host countries and the refugees would be better off. Germany, for example, started out with an open-doors policy towards refugees and has now found itself struggling to cope with the sheer volume. Helping citizens of another country in their time of need should not be a hard choice for Western countries, especially those with the resources and land to spare. However, many Western countries have chosen to stay on the sidelines, leading to the high concentration of refugees in a select few countries.
This inactivity in accepting refugees combined with a lack of a Western presence in Syria has caused many problems. Majed, a 26-year-old civil society activist has said that “the disappointment caused by the West’s inaction created a fertile recruiting ground for extremists, who told those who had lost their loved ones that they were their only hope.” Those who are in Syria are given only one option, the option of extremism. To some extent, because of the high concentration of refugees in a few countries, tensions are higher there than they should be and many are worried for their own well-being. In many ways, if the refugees were allowed to become more evenly dispersed across the world and if countries could become more accepting of refugees, tensions may be lowered, refugees may lead better lives, and host countries may benefit from a more diverse population.