Rebel forces in Syria and the government led by Bashar al-Assad have been in conflict since 2011. The fighting has recently escalated, causing the displacement of an estimated 12 million Syrians. Many have fled to nearby countries like Jordan and Turkey, and even European countries such as Germany.
However, the United States, despite its long history of accepting refugees and immigrants, is choosing to remain surprisingly uninvolved and has only taken limited steps to accept Syrian refugees. While there are several reasons the United States government is cautious about bringing in a substantial amount of Syrian citizens, none of them successfully meet the critical needs of Syrian citizens and Americans’ responsibilities to rescue them from terror and violence.
On Friday, October 30, President Barack Obama authorized the deployment of United States troops into Syria to provide support to rebel forces. While sources from the White House say troops will not participate in combat, but rather just offer assistance to allies in Syria, the deployment is still a significant action by the Obama Administration, which previously sought to not participate in the war.
This deployment highlights the American government’s military intervention in foreign conflict, without providing direct social aid to those harmed by the Syrian government. Many argue the United States does not hold the responsibility to help refugees from a war-torn country. However, because we have a role in arming Syrian rebels we must also play a part in rescuing its citizens.
In past situations, the United States has played a large role in safeguarding refugees fleeing violence in other countries. In 1975, as the Vietnam War was coming to a close, the United States government allowed a huge wave of refugees to resettle in America. A group of 125,000 arrived during that year and more took refuge in the following few years. As in Syria, United States military troops were deployed in Vietnam, however their policy regarding aiding refugees was much more active.
Even now, the United States offers support to thousands of refugees from all over the world. According to the Washington Post, the cap on the number of refugees allowed yearly in the United States is currently 70,000, but we are only making room for 10,000 Syrian refugees. In comparison to the projected amount of 800,000 refugees that Germans will allow into their country, the United States fails to play an effective role in the international crisis, despite pleas by politicians and members of humanitarian and religious organizations.
Former Secretary of State and democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton believes the United States should be a leading country in offering refuge for Syrians, stating “I would like to see us move from what is a good start with 10,000 to 65,000 and begin immediately to put into place the mechanisms for vetting the people that we would take in.”
In the midst of the crisis, United States officials prioritize America’s security, which I fully support. The security of our citizens should not be compromised by our generosity to Syrians. The UNHCR, the United Nations’ agency for refugees, takes extreme precautions in order to ensure that applicants for refuge in America are not a threat to the American people. However, because of this complex system, only an estimated 1,900 refugees have been admitted to relocation in America since the beginning of the civil war. In essence, we need to increase the number of people we will allow into the United States, as well as devote more of our resources to advocating for and screening as many refugees as possible. By maintaining and expanding its strict system of screening refugees, the United States government could devote the same amount of precision to protecting citizens against terrorist attacks, while letting a large amount of non-threatening refugees into the country.
While Syrian refugees will face challenges while adjusting to life in America, relocation is preferable to remaining in a war zone or living without a home. The Department of State partners with resettlement agencies in an effort to help refugees adjust to living in a new country; these programs prove the United States’ capabilities of supporting refugees. They also stifle the fear that we will have a group of refugees draining our resources, because in reality they will be seeking jobs and acclimating to our culture.
While the geographic location of the United States is not an ideal place for refugees to come due to the difficulty they will face in their travels, it does not give us an excuse to ignore the problem. We must fund the transportation of Syrian refugees to America despite our concerns about the effect of this action on Americans. The U.S. government is currently providing resources to rebel forces in combat and it should exhibit the same willingness to protect refugees.
The Syrian crisis is more than a popular subject in the presidential campaign, but this crisis is more than just statistics and a story that we read in the newspaper; there are people desperately searching for a safe home. The United States, although it faces its own financial and political issues, is capable of providing much more than a home for just 10,000 Syrian refugees.
There is no perfect solution to the problem, either way people will suffer as a result of the violence in Syria. It is easy for Americans thousands of miles away from Syria to say that this is not our problem, that we don’t want to strain our resources and energy to save strangers we cannot relate to. We could claim that accepting refugees would expand the crisis, and that the best solution is to keep it contained. However, it is necessary that we crush the barriers keeping us from empathizing with Syrians and try to consider their grave circumstances. We must put aside our differences and take direct action to fight for the lives and freedoms of Syrians by protecting them from the terrible violence they have endured and witnessed in their home country.
Painting done by Jaya Blanchard