In the past two weeks, refugees have flooded into Europe, leading to the most serious refugee crisis since World War II and placing Europe’s refugee policies and recent wavering refugee placement measures in the teeth of world media opinion. How to place the millions of helpless refugees and to contain and resolve the refugee problem from its very source has become a test not only for European countries in practicing their values but also for the US, in undertaking its responsibility as a major power and dealing with the consequences of its Middle East policy.
In the face of surging refugee inflows, and the picture of the dead 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan on Turkish beach in particular, Europe has no choice but to adopt a proactive refugee-placement plan. When European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker advanced the compulsory refugee quotas to distribute 16,000 refugees among EU members, old Europe and new Europe quarreled and there were complaints about America staying out of the matter. Many in the world including some European media believe that the US has an unshirkable responsibility for the various wars in the Middle East (from Afghanistan to Iraq and then Syria) that has caused this round of refugee flows. With the greatest capacity for absorbing and placing refugees, the US should, therefore, play a more active role and undertake more obligation.
According to statistics, most refugees come from Syria. The four -and-a-half-year civil war has displaced half of the 20 million population of the country and about 4 million of them have become refugees, Syria thus exceeding Afghanistan to be the world’s largest source of refugees. The overwhelming majority of Syrian refugees have been taken in by neighboring countries. Statistics from the UN show that from 2011 to last July, Turkey has received 1.9 million Syrian refugees, Lebanon 1.1 million, Jordan 629,000 and even Iraq, a country still in a state of war, has received 249,000 refugees. As neighboring countries’ ability to receive refugees gets overwhelmed, the civil war in Syria worsens, and the IS adopts extremely brutal policies, the road of exile for Syrian refugees has extended to Europe. Germany, the preferred destination, has shown a positive humanitarian attitude. It has taken in 160,000 refugees since August and announced a plan to receive another 800,000 in the coming few years. France will open its doors to 24,000 refugees this year and next. Britain has also announced its plan to receive 20,000 Syrian refugees in the coming five years. However, many international refugee and human rights advocacy groups are bitter about the inaction of America. The country only admitted 23 Syrian refugees in fiscal year (ending on Sept 30) 2011, 41 in 2012, 45 in 2013, 249 in 2014 and 1,199 by September in 2015. In other words, in the four years of Syrian civil war, the US has admitted fewer than 1,500 Syrian refugees, much fewer than not only Syrian neighbors but also Europe.
Under the pressure of public opinion, the Obama Administration has recently announced a plan to receive at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the new fiscal year of 2016. But the commitment has been too little and too slow. The neo-interventionism and forceful regime change it has been practicing in the Middle East contributed to the refugee crisis. The US should open its door for more refugees and make greater contribution to the global refugee placement program.
Some analysts believe that the American inaction has been out of homeland security considerations, to prevent terrorists from sneaking into the country. This argument is actually rather farfetched and narrow-minded. Even European countries, at a closer geographic distance to war-torn states such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and with more refugees admitted, are able to effectively distinguish refugees from terrorists and safeguard homeland security by “dredging” rather than “damming”. Then what should the US, a country with the richest anti-terror experience, the most diversified sources of intelligence and much vaster land, be afraid of?
The root of refugee problems is the conflicts and chaos in Syria and other countries in the Middle East and North Africa. The US, France and NATO militarily intervened in Iraq, Libya and Syria but lack the capability or desire to help create an effective new order after destroying the old regimes. Therefore, to fundamentally resolve the refugee question, besides expanding refugee admission plans, it is essential to address the root cause by ensuring stability and development of countries in the region through political dialogue, peace and reconstruction. The civil war in Syria seems to have reached another dangerous juncture. For the various forces inside and outside the country, a new game is brewing. If the war continues or even escalates, the refugee crisis will no longer be a problem for Europe alone. Rather, the US and in fact the whole world will face a humanitarian crisis and a major test for preserving peace and security.