Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Question: How should countries address the Syrian Refugee Crisis?

Creating International Emergency Panels: Written by Dalya Al Masri, Canada

The Syrian refugee crisis began long before it sparked attention from international media outlets. To fully understand the complexity of the refugee crisis, one must look to the source of where it all began. Syria has been engaged in a civil war between the government of President Bashar Al-Assad, and several opposing forces. Entering the seventh year of war, over 500,000 casualties have been claimed, and more than half the country's’ population (approx. 12 million) have been dispelled from their homes and forced to relocate.

The conflict commenced in 2011, influenced by an Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, each of whom saw their presidents overthrown. When Syrians began peacefully protesting the Assad Regime, President Assad ordered the mass killing of hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and imprisoned others. Lack of freedom, violation of human rights, censorship of media, propaganda by the government, and civilians getting tiresome of the violence on protesters, accumulated the fuel needed for an uprising, especially after witnessing their Arab counterparts’ successful insurgencies.

The civil war is prolonged by attacks between the radical extremist Islamic caliphate ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq), bombings from Russia, and failed intervention strikes from the United States, all of which only resulted in the deaths of more innocent civilians. Although, the U.S has publicly denounced Assad’s government and condemned ISIS’s presence, they have failed to significantly involve themselves in the alleviation of the conflict, even after the Assad government turned to chemical weapon attacks in 2013.

Fast forward seven grueling and torturous years of war, over 4.8 million Syrian refugees have been dispelled, according to the United Nations, and nation states and the media have seemingly gotten bored of the subject as the “glamour” has fizzled out. Over the last few years, more countries, such as Lebanon, Jordan, UAE, Greece, Turkey, Germany, and France have tried to provide humanitarian assistance by accepting refugees, but combined with overpopulation, discrimination, and an inability of the population to peacefully co-exist, has deemed difficult to accept refugees escaping war.

The catastrophe sparked international interest and headlines when a photograph of the corpse of a three-year-old Syrian boy went viral, on the beaches of Turkey; this incident seemed to have awakened a collective sense of urgency. Nations and governments have been wrestling with how to operationalize a response that combines rescue and humanitarian efforts, and many countries have collectively responded with accepting refugees, while others have pulled back and created a quota limit of refugees. Since the crisis has been occurring for almost a decade, countries have tried several different efforts and agendas aimed at supporting Syrian refugees by investing in welfare services and creating job opportunities. The crisis is sensitive and these refugees need support, as they are escaping blood, violence, and horror. Countries need to plan more extractions of innocent citizens and see to it that humanitarian convoys are received and not bombed by opposing armies.

A distinction between ISIS militants and civilians is essential and necessary to avoid undesirable murders, because these innocent individuals being killed is taken so lightly nowadays that nations and governmental officers have become desensitized to murder. We are humans of the same species and must stand together and support the displaced and injured, rather than discriminating and throwing racist slurs against them. It is the 21st century and we have seen a long way though history to be set back.

Nations must convene emergency panels biweekly to assess the situation and for each country to effectively plan and execute missions to stop the corrupt Syrian government, imprison Assad and his team of nefarious officials, and extract civilians without making them targets for F-35 fighter jets. Government officials need to come together and overthrow Assad’s dictatorship and strip the secret service and his military force of their power in order to dethrone his entire political influence in Syria. This is the most crucial step to stop the refugee crisis from persisting, as returning to the source of the issue will prove to be more effective than continuous failed attempts at settling refugees and thousands of them dying from unsafe, violent journey’s and getting bombed at simultaneously, especially implemented humanitarian assistance such as United Nations peacekeeping convoys.

Therefore, countries need implementable tactics and strategic techniques to demolish the Syrian refugee crisis by starting with the main issue: Assad. Approaching a realistic ideology, we can conclude that the Syrian Refugee Crisis will persist if allies and the international media continue to provide zero assistance and turn a blind eye. Assad and ISIS coincided together and have become two unstoppable forces that are terrorizing Syrian citizens in several ways. Both are murdering civilians. To quote a character from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” This is precisely the case with Assad and ISIS; they are power hungry, soul sucking, mass murdering dictators, totalitarians, and we can even go as far to compare them to the Nazis, but rather ethnically cleansing their own people. The Arab world is being demolished and is crumbling to pieces day by day, and nations are doing nothing to alleviate it. At this rate, if it persists, Syria will be obliterated into shreds, and become something for history, a political state, swept away into oblivion, hidden ceaselessly into the past.

Compassionate and Cost-effective Policies: written by Sofia Sears, California

There are around 22 million refugees currently on this planet, and denying or diminishing their existence is not going to make that number go away. The biggest problem is how difficult empathy is in regards to such a large, ungraspable number of people. We stop seeing refugees as individual, unique human beings, and more like untenable statistics lacking any relationship to our own lives. Worldwide, the standard system of responding to the extreme refugee influx is deeply fractured. Politically, doing nothing is seems the safest option for most world leaders. But, it’s not going away, and abruptly blocking off borders to refugees is unsustainable and short-sighted.

One of the most effective approaches to aid in this crisis is resettlement. According to Amnesty International, resettlement is “a vital solution for the most vulnerable refugees- including torture survivors and people with serious medical problems.” Indeed, resettlement is a crucial piece to gradually resolving this crisis. In fact, the UNHCR focuses intensively on resettlement in their many efforts to assist in the crisis. Countries must grant refugees asylum in order for them to relocate legally, however, and the political complications of this arrangement have often dissuaded viable, and necessary, countries from doing this more expansively. This emphasis on preserving and protecting all fundamental human rights in the process of resettlement is vital. To dehumanize refugees is to disconnect them from what they really are: people.

There is immense, unwavering pressure upon countries that are in the region of politically unstable countries. Lebanon is the most pertinent example of this; it neighbors Syria, and the chaotic spillover demands far too much for the Lebanese government to adequately respond to. Lebanon welcomes refugees with open arms but they are ill-equipped to the task; agriculturally, they are in unfavorable circumstances and cannot sustain endurable, long-term growth and health in the agricultural sector. In 2017, the UNHCR predicts that 170,000 refugee households in Lebanon will receive winterization support, “primarily through cash grants,” and around 4,775 resettlement registration forms will be submitted. 85% of these Syrian refugees will have access to legal assistance, which is quite an impressive number relatively, but still, not complete. The government is being strained to the breaking point, and while the most compassionate and ideal, it is clear that unregulated acceptance is not working. That is because smaller, developing countries do not have the means to incorporate and support thousands of refugees into their infrastructures. Larger, powerhouse countries must give money to these countries, especially Lebanon, but there is not enough of a sense of global, grave urgency that those large sums have come in yet.

The expectation of immediate cultural assimilation is an entirely different problem. Particularly in the United States, there is a general assumption that all immigrants, will adhere quickly and passionately to the norms, traditions, language and idiosyncrasies of American society. This approach forgets the culture and history that immigrants bring with them here. Integration into a new country and culture is a crucial part of the resettlement process, which is a key obligation of Resettlement States to provide. This includes vocational training, language lessons, and a myriad of programs that provide education and job access to refugees. The common charge against this idea is the omnipresent worry of cost and affordability. It is a legitimate concern, but with the programs suggested by agencies such as the UNHCR, countries will be essentially training and equipping an entire new demographic into the workforce, and thus, into the economy as well.

The United States has been the top Resettlement State as of late, but the political backlash and turbulence has begun to shake the stability of this situation. A brutal example of the cost of foreign politics can be found back in 2015. While thousands of refugees fleeing Myanmar were stuck in horrific conditions, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia wasted their time arguing noisily over what country ought to help them. There is a grave lack of morality in this international norm: that we are so ruthlessly calculated in whether or not we help human beings. It is not a question of being able to, as politically unstable and developing countries are not often the states pinpointed to offer aid, it is a question of willingness. States must put humanitarianism first, and not wait to take action.

What seems to be the most undeniable and obvious problem here? There is simply not enough money for the proposed solutions to be implemented. And what’s more, there is no international sense of urgency to change this. The funding cannot be merely focused on short-term goals, because that is what has been self-destructive and inadequate in the past. Cash, rather than supplies, is the most effective means of supporting refugees. It gives people more autonomy and independence to logically divide, ration out, and spend their money on what their families most need. Only 6% of humanitarian aid, though, is currently given through cash. Miliband also emphasizes this, “In Lebanon, the IRC conducted the first study to compare refugees receiving cash with those who did not. The results were striking. Child labor went down; school attendance went up; prices did not rise; and each dollar given to refugees generated a $2.13 increase in GDP in the local economy.”

But money alone is not the answer. Over time, refugees will not abruptly stop needing money from the government and agencies unless they are supplied with job-finding and optimal cultural integration programs in their entry into countries. They need to have reliable sources of income. For example, in a nation such as Kampala, 78% of their refugees require no financial aid because they focus their programs on integrating refugees into the country as productive, working members of society rather than alien foreigners and impermanent guests. Microfinancing, such as, can also easily be employed here, with local programs supporting particularly women in agriculture as well as starting and running businesses.

It will not happen overnight, but that’s not the point. The point is that entities like the EU, the World Bank and IMF, are not putting enough investment into these solutions. We need to be funding more research on what policies and programs actually work, so that money is not being wasted by donor countries and agencies. Refugees are an investment in the economy and progress of a country, certainly, but they’re more than commodities. They are human beings. Empathy is difficult, almost impossible when we talk about big numbers. But we need to tell individual stories and support campaigns and movements that do just that, and bring those stories to our politicians and policymakers. If they don’t care about refugees as people, they will not, rather bleakly, have any interest in helping them. Support refugees here and here. We need to become so universally angry about this and so invested in these human lives that it is no longer a tragic but ignorable problem for world leaders.

Encouraging and perpetuating this dangerous, omnipresent fear of refugees is not going to end terrorism. It is not going to do anything productive. It is going to allow people to die, millions of them, and continue to expand the problem. Let us face this as a world with urgency, compassion, and a deep commitment to solving this crisis not through blind, endless streams of money but through programs and policies that we know will work for these human beings.

Now it's Time for Your Input:

We want to hear all sides of it from you, our readers. What comes to mind when you think of the Syrian crisis? Where have you learned this information from? Do you view the situation as a crisis? What role does the Syrian Crisis play in your country? Does and/or should the government support the refugees? In what way? Do you believe that there are solutions to the Syrian crisis? Who do you believe should respond?

There's so much to talk about and we look forward to seeing you all in the discussions linked below. Please make your voice heard. The only way to begin to bridge the divide is by having a conversation.

Join the Discussion HERE:

#DalyaAlMasri #SofiaSears #Debate #Syria #refugee

The opinions expressed above are solely those of the author, and in no way reflect the opinions of Bridge the Divide or its affiliates.

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