Thursday, February 21, 2019
Immigration Article of the Day: Towards Empowerment and Sustainability: Reforming America's Syrian Refugee Policy by Sahar F. Aziz, Joanna Gardner, and Omar Rana
Towards Empowerment and Sustainability: Reforming America's Syrian Refugee Policy by Sahar F. Aziz, Joanna Gardner, and Omar Rana
The number of refugees and displaced people worldwide has reached unprecedented levels. Of the world’s 68.5 million refugees and displaced people, by far the largest number are Syrian. The nearly 13 million Syrian refugees and internally-displaced persons account for sixty percent of Syria’s pre-war population. A violent proxy war starting in 2011 has resulted in mass civilian casualties, human rights abuses, and widespread destruction. After eight years of war, Syria remains too dangerous for most refugees to return home. The UN refugee agency warns it is unknown when threshold requirements for large-scale safe and voluntary returns to Syria will be met for refugees who fled their homes to live in neighboring countries.
While media coverage has focused on Syrian refugees seeking asylum in third countries, such as Europe and the United States, eighty percent of the seven million externally displaced Syrians have sought refuge in the countries neighboring Syria: Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt and Lebanon. As millions of Syrian refugees crossed their borders, these countries assumed the enormous financial burden of providing refugees with the protections mandated by international law. The principle of non-refoulement — a legal norm prohibiting host nations from sending refugees back to countries where their lives are in danger — requires host countries to provide refuge to Syrians until it is safe for them to return home.
Four recommendations, if implemented, would contribute toward a sustainable and more effective U.S. Syrian refugee policy. First, U.S. aid should increase to fund programs that empower refugees to be economically independent rather than indefinitely dependent on international aid. Second, development aid to Jordan should strengthen both state institutions and the private sector. Third, the U.S. should fund humanitarian projects with broad eligibility criteria not limited solely to Syrian refugees. Granting access to U.S.-funded humanitarian programs to low-income Jordanians and refugees from other countries reduces inter-community tensions and promotes social cohesion. Finally, sustainable and targeted aid to countries of first asylum such as Jordan should be prioritized in conjunction with an increase in Syrian refugee resettlement to the U.S.
While U.S. refugee resettlement cannot replace the need for a final solution to the Syrian conflict, increasing the U.S.’s refugee resettlement ceiling, particularly the number of refugees who can be admitted from the Middle East and especially Syria, would ease the burden on the U.S.’s allies in the region that currently shoulder most of the financial and political costs of the crisis. By accepting its fair share of refugees, the U.S. encourages countries of first asylum to continue meeting their international obligations with respect to refugees. Conversely, the Trump administration’s hostility towards refugees grants tacit permission for host countries to give in to mounting domestic political pressure to prematurely send Syrian refugees home to dangerous conditions.