To define what some say is “arguably the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War” is nearly impossible. Words cannot adequately describe the conflict in Syria, unless those words come from the mouth of someone who has lived through it. However, I recognize the importance in an attempt to define it, because defining the Syrian Refugee Crisis makes it tangible in the minds of those who cannot begin to imagine what life as a refugee is like. Defining a problem is the first step in solving it, and though it may not seem possible now, I do think the Syrian Refugee Crisis can be solved. The ideal solution would be for refugees to be able to return home some day to their homeland since their leaving is inherently mandatory, not a choice. For the refugees, Syria is home and always will be, and there really is no place like home.
In order to define the Syrian Refugee Crisis, it is important to first understand its cause. With inspiration from the Arab Spring—a regional political phenomena in the Middle-East that demanded the installation of democracy in place of the existing autocracies—Syrian protestors also demanded that leader Bashar Al Assad step down. But in March of 2011, the tide of the Syrian Revolution turned from relatively peaceful to violent war. The teenagers, whose message to Assad has been deemed the ignition of the civil war, were arrested and tortured, causing uproar throughout the country and an instant divide between supporters of the government and supporters of a new democracy. This month marks the sixth year of the ongoing civil unrest in Syria, and while most civil wars average ten years in length, it is expected that this one could last much longer as the conflict becomes more and more complex.
The war is technically a civil war because some citizens of Syria are up in arms against the official government of the country. Those fighting for democracy are called “rebels”. Rebels do no support any policy or action of the Assad regime which included the arrest and torture of the teenage boys I mentioned earlier. Since that event, Bashar Al Assad has also ordered multiple bombings on civilian towns—which are primarily the meeting grounds for rebel groups and medical assistance—along with strategic use of chemical weapons and open-fire on civilians. As a result, hundreds of thousands of civilians, mainly women and children, have been killed and millions have been displaced. While most Syrians displaced aim for bordering European countries, some are granted the opportunity to apply for refugee status in the U.S., Canada, Australia, etc. Only 50% of all refugees, whether from Syrian or any other country, are granted refugee status in the United States; this indicates the process is anything but lax.
But since recent terrorist events such as the Paris attack in November of 2015, which some inaccurately believe was conducted by a Syrian who had entered France in a wave of refugees, the vetting process for Syrian families averages 18-24 months. Though terrorism is a possible consequence when assisting people from a war-torn region—especially from the Middle East which contains groups like ISIS, Al-Queda, and Hezbollah—the likelihood of a terrorist passing the U.S. screening process is practically impossible. Though flaws do exist, overall the vetting process has proved extremely reliable: since September 11, 2001 approximately 750,000 refugees from around the world have been allowed into the U.S. and none have been arrested for domestic acts of terror.
So why does the U.S. only allow in a fraction of the number of Syrian refugees as Canada, for example? Like many Western countries, the U.S. has adopted a sort of islamophobic stance towards the Syrian Refugee Crisis, which is no surprise given the events that occurred on September 11, 2001. But this stance rests firmly on ignorance. In the midst of one of the worst humanitarian crises of recent history, instead of making a valiant effort to help those in need, the U.S. as a whole has done the bare minimum. This sort of resistance to accept refugees and migrants is not unique to Syria’s crisis, but if anything, as the vetting process demonstrates, is stronger now. Additionally, with the new Trump administration, what window of opportunity that was open for all future refugees is closing. While the Obama administration strove for a goal of 110,000 refugees by the end of 2017, President Trump reduced that goal to only 50,000.
For some this is a good thing; with enough to worry about right here at home the thought of getting too involved in another country’s problems is frightening. The possibility of entering another war is what many Americans hope to avoid at all costs, and I understand that. Why does the world always look to the United States for help? Why have we assumed the role of the global police? In my opinion, it is not that we as a nation have chosen to be a world power, but it is that we have earned it. Others look to us for answers because they believe we hold the truth. Others ask us for help because they know we can make a difference. Since our beginning in 1776, as the first country ever founded on the idea of freedom, we have earned the honor of becoming a world leader and in no way should we stop now. If policies are not doing enough, there are many other ways to help Syria. The most helpful efforts have been those at the grassroots level, like Sweaters for Syria and I AM NOT A TOURIST. And helping is not limited to people with Syrian connections; people of all backgrounds, ethnicities, religions, and languages can make a difference. What matters is that we try, because these refugees have no government to support them and no home to go back to…yet.
If you asked any refugee what he or she wanted, they would say, “I want to go home”. This factor is what most saliently distinguishes a refugee from a migrant; for refugees, there really is no place like home. But for victims of the Syrian Refugee Crisis going back home may never be an option, at least not any time soon. So instead of asking refugees what they want, I think the best way to help is to ask them what they need. By making conscience efforts to distinguish primary concerns, assistance could be provided more efficiently. Additionally, if the time ever came for Syria to be rebuilt as a democracy, the United States could play a very important role in helping to reestablish it. For many of the countries that demanded democracy during the Arab Spring, the success what short-lived. In order to prevent a tyrant from reclaiming power in Syria, the U.S. could provide political help and support to ensure the new democracy succeeds. Of course, in order for this to happen, the war in Syria not only has to end, but the rebels must be victorious. While this is possible, it will be years, if not decades or longer, before refugees can return home. And it won’t be as easy as hopping in a magical hot air balloon either. If, like Dorothy, the people of Syria could wake up to realize the past six years have all been a dream, life would be very different for them, but they can’t. Therefore it us up to the rest of the world to put all the brains, heart, and courage together to help those who need it.