Though the Syrian crisis has gained massive international media attention recently, this problem didn’t begin yesterday. Civil war started this crisis in March of 2011.
Since then, nine million Syrians have fled their homes. Six and a half million are currently displaced in their own country. Three million are in the neighboring countries of Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. And thousands upon thousands are trying to seek safe haven in Europe.
But Europe has not been an oasis in the Syrians’ trek through chaos. Thousands have died in failed attempts to cross the Mediterranean Sea.
Those who survive the sea face hundreds of miles between where they are and countries, such as Germany, that they hope to reach. And those who make it to their destination face the possibility that they may not be welcome.
This is not a pleasant journey. Yet countless Syrians are risking everything to get to Europe. A quick look at what is happening in Syria shows why.
The death toll of the civil war is over 300,000, according to CNN. An estimated eleven thousand children have been killed, some by explosions, some by gunshots and some even by torture. A London-based think tank puts the number of children executed at over 700.
Nearly 400 children have been shot by snipers and over 100 tortured before being murdered. Not 100 people tortured, but 100 children. Even infants have been tortured and murdered.
Why you’re hearing about it now
The world largely ignored the Syrian war, even as the numbers of people fleeing the conflict began to skyrocket. It was just another case of unrest in a Middle Eastern country, after all.
Then things reached critical mass. Hundreds of refugees drowned in the Mediterranean sea in the space of a week. Refugees gathered in huge numbers at countries’ borders, struggling to get farther north.
That tipping point came in the form of three year old Aylan. Aylan was found dead, washed up on a Turkish beach in a red T-shirt and shorts after the boat he was on capsized. Finally, the world had an image to seize onto.
Sen. John McCain showed this photo to the Senate, saying the image has “opened the world’s eye to this devastating crisis.”
Poor countries have been struggling to provide adequate housing, food and supplies in this crisis as wealthier countries stand by and do nothing.
Conditions provided for refugees in Greece and Italy have been described as “squalid” by Amnesty International. Meanwhile Saudi Arabia, among other wealthy Middle Eastern countries, has refused to give aid.
Germany showed the rest of Europe the right path when they announced they would stop turning away refugees and instead will begin processing claims of asylum. In the days after Germany announced they would take refugees, 25 thousand Syrian refugees flooded in through Munich.
Germany is expecting to have 800,000 people seek asylum this year and German Vice-Chancellor Sigmore Gabriel has “no doubt” Germany can handle absorbing over half a million refugees for the next “several years.”
Meanwhile, the UK grudgingly agreed to take 200,000 refugees, who will be given safe passage directly from refugee camps, over the next five years. The UK also gave one billion euros to aid refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, with the hope that better conditions in countries closer to Syria will slow the mass immigration.
The United States
After the world finished criticising Europe for not doing enough, it turned its attention to the United States. After all, there is one Lebanon village that has taken in more Syrian refugees than all 50 US states combined.
In response to the social shaming and pressure, President Obama announced that ten thousand Syrian refugees would be resettled in the US in the next year.
Before refugees set foot on US soil, the US State Department will screen and interview them to make sure they are not liars, criminals and terrorists, a source from the State Department told the Washington Post.
Refugees “are subject to the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States,” according to another State Department official.
According to Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, this is because the US needs “to recognize that this is a splendid opportunity for the global jihadists to infiltrate (the refugees) with members of their own organization. So we would have to have in place a very excellent screening mechanism. Until we had such a mechanism in place, we should not be bringing anybody in.”
Crossing the Mediterranean and then walking across Europe to be registered and put through the “highest level of security checks” doesn’t seem like the best strategy for a terrorist to enter the US.
Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee brought up another important question when he said, “Are (Syrian refugees) really escaping tyranny, are they escaping poverty, or are they really just coming because we’ve got cable TV?”
The Syrian refugee crisis has polarized the United States like it has with other countries. Many argue we aren’t doing enough, while others ask why America is obligated to help.
I say to the latter, we’re not obligated. We’re choosing to help. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
To the former, however, I have a question. Are we demanding our government do more to help because we actually care about refugees? Or are we succumbing to the social pressure to keep up with Europe?
Or, worse yet, are we focusing on Syrian refugees because helping them is currently trending? After all, this is not a new crisis.
Helping deal with the Syrian refugee crisis because its the newest fad to cross the political stage is doing the right thing for the wrong reason.
If we truly want to help refugees fleeing from violence, we don’t have to go to the Middle East to do so.
An obvious parallel
Desperate citizens from third world countries wracked by violence trek across the globe in the hope of finding a safe place to live. Thousands cross borders only to find the wealthy country they hoped to find refuge in is unwelcoming, even hostile.
This description fits more than the Syrian refugee crisis. It also fits what has been called the 2014 American immigration crisis.
Oh yeah, remember when thousands of Central American children crossed the Rio Grande in search of a better and safer life?
These children were fleeing unstable countries wracked with violence, much like Syrian refugees.
While Latin America has eight percent of the global population, it has 31 percent of total homicides. That is one out of every three murders globally. Latin America has a per capita homicide rate that is double the rate in Africa.
A booming narcotics trade, vast organized crime, weak law enforcement and economic hardship are some factors that have fostered the creation of such violent regions.
“In El Salvador they take young girls, rape them, and throw them in plastic bags,” one child told the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Is it any wonder then, that some parents think letting their children make the dangerous journey across the U.S. border unaccompanied is safer than letting them grow up at home?
After all, children who cross the US border unaccompanied by an adult (and are not from Canada or Mexico) have the right to a court hearing under US law.
From November 2013 to July 2014, over 50 thousand unaccompanied minors crossed the US border.
At its peak, over 350 children were crossing the border every day.
Military bases opened shelters to keep these minors, but much like European countries with the Syrian crisis, the US struggled to keep up with the numbers. Our system is not set up to deal with vast numbers of refugees.
These children immigrants may have to wait “up to three years” for their court date, according to Carrie Kahn from NPR.
But for “most of these kids, that’s three years with a long-lost relative or three years away from extreme poverty and violence.”
What to do?
If Americans want to help people born into less fortunate circumstances escape crippling poverty and terrifying violence, we can do that a little closer to home.
At the very least, let’s allow Europe to deal with Syria while we keep our efforts on our side of the globe. America is very nearly the only hope many Central American children have at living a safe and normal life. If the US wants to help someone, we should help them. Because if we don’t, no one will.
But, if we were feeling particularly generous, we could help both. America is a vast and wealthy country. We have the room and the resources to accept both Syrian refugees and Central American children fleeing violence.