The Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Guy Raber

With hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking shelter around the globe, the topic of discussion on our September 22nd meeting was how to address this growing crisis. Center Director for Defense & Diplomacy Ademali “Adem” Sengal focused the discussion onto the roles different nations should take, specifically referencing the United States and members of the EU.

Key questions for discussion included: Do states have an obligation to the refugees? If so, which states? Should EU member states have sovereignty over their immigration policies? How does xenophobia play into policymaking in the EU? What role can the UN play in aiding refugees? What is a systematic policy we can create from lessons learned from this and previous refugee spikes? Would military intervention in Syria alleviate the crisis?

The conversation began with a general discussion on morality, attempting to define the existence of state obligations to refugees. While most agreed that states are obligated on a humanitarian basis to provide what aid they can, several members mentioned that the protection and needs of citizens within their own states should come first. Even though the two trains of thought are not mutually exclusive, the different priorities came into play later when considering options that were worth taking.

Essentially, if the priority was to help the refugees, then the corresponding processes were to accept and provide for a larger number of uprooted Syrians. The solution then was primarily diplomatic; as a few individuals pointed out, our previous military interventions have played a significant role in causing these developments to begin with. Words, rather than weapons, would be used to offer aid to refugees and avoid a war at all costs.

An alternative priority was placed on the security of non-refugees. For example, one person brought up that the instability of this region was a national security threat, as ISIS continues to grow in power within the political vacuum. He, along with multiple others, strongly advocated providing weapons and military aid to the Kurds as they fight against our enemies in the Middle East. Another concern for this side was that among the massive number of Syrian refugees could be hidden ISIS members, capable of terrorism and other heinous acts.

Perhaps most striking about this debate was the difference in characterization of the issue. One side painted refugees as potential terrorists, while one praised them for being talented and educated youths. Another contention was between the individuals who sincerely dread the thought of any military conflict, and those who see the troubling radicalization of this region as a need for action. Our differences in opinion not only about the ramifications of a military course of action, but about the nature of this crisis, is a concern. We have carried a proverbial “big stick” ever since the days of Teddy Roosevelt. However, when it comes to the Middle East, we often can’t seem to figure out if we’re using the stick to play baseball or whack-a-mole.