Americans can no longer ignore the Syrian refugee crisis.
While the United States government cannot and should not address every humanitarian crisis, the Syrian civil war(s) and resulting displacement of nearly half of Syria’s prewar population poses grave security risk and migration realities for not only Europe and the Middle East, but America itself. The “Syrian Problem” is two-fold: there is both (1) a four-way civil war with significant international involvement, and (2) a significant displacement of Syrian nationals, both within the country and to countries around the world.
While the refugee crisis has drawn the lion’s share of international headlines, the convoluted Syrian civil war must be addressed if the refugee crisis is to be solved in the long-term. Without resolution to the war, refugees will continue to stream into Turkey, Jordan, and Europe – especially if the war continues to expand to Syria’s neighbors.
To address the civil wars, the U.S. needs to lead world powers in finding a solution. Drafting a detailed plan goes beyond the scope of this column, but here are some basic principles to keep in mind:
- The Islamic State is the enemy, the most dangerous threat to the United States and the region. Military operations, whether airstrikes, allied ground attacks, or otherwise, should continue to weaken IS’s hold on the region.
- The U.S. should work with international leaders to bring Assad and the moderate rebel groups to the peace table, and isolate the Islamic State and other radical terrorist organizations. If the moderates and Assad forces cease fighting and turn their attention to those terrorists intent on destroying any notion of a Syrian state, the Islamic State will suffer as all parties begin focusing their efforts on eliminating the evil.
- The U.S. must be willing to take a leading role in resolving the crisis. We will certainly need continued support from our NATO and Middle Eastern allies, but the U.S. needs to address the Islamic State issue now, before it gets any further out of hand.
Even if Syria’s wars could be resolved soon, Americans still must find ways to address the migration crisis. While many of the migrants are undoubtedly refugees, the sheer volume of migrants and their chaotic reception provides opportunities for terrorist organizations engaged in Syria to infiltrate into other regions of the world. Potential terrorists or former combatants could easily blend in with the millions fleeing toward Europe, and from there emigrate to the United States–in addition to those suspects already among migrants who the United States is accepting directly.
To compound the problem, this wave of refugees is largely Muslim and poor, without the benefit of any significant preexisting Syrian immigrant communities in Europe. Thus, the economic realities of supporting an influx of refugees mean that several countries in Europe are unwilling to welcome large numbers of migrants. There is additional resistance in nations like France, whose already-high numbers of Islamic immigrants have made French authorities unwilling to accept more people and potentially change the country’s national identity.
To solve the problem, all nations in the United States and European Union should commit to accepting some number of refugees who have fled in that direction. Countries like Germany, whose citizens at least are more eager to take large numbers of Syrians, should be allowed to do so. Immigrants by and large help a country’s economy in the long-run while adding to a country’s culture. But each country should be allowed to screen its immigrants for terrorist or combatant ties, even if this means delaying immigrants’ journeys. Governments have obligations to their citizens’ security, and with terrorists’ potential to infiltrate refugee groups, governments need to take every precaution.
If Europe and the United States want to stop the flow of migrants, they must find a resolution to Syria’s brutal warfare. Without addressing the root cause of this crisis, they are just slapping a Band-Aid onto an open, gushing wound.