America to Blame? Refugee Crisis Exacerbates Regional Instability

Syrian+refugees+resting+at+a+train+station+in+Budapest.++%28Photo+by+Mstyslav+Chernov%29
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America to Blame? Refugee Crisis Exacerbates Regional Instability

Syrian refugees resting at a train station in Budapest.  (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov)

Syrian refugees resting at a train station in Budapest. (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov)

Syrian refugees resting at a train station in Budapest. (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov)

Syrian refugees resting at a train station in Budapest. (Photo by Mstyslav Chernov)

Nicholas Chang, Editor

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According to a Gallup poll published ahead of the 2016 Presidential Election, 31% of Americans cited some form of economic problem as a major concern. However, the US accepted the fewest number of refugees in 2018 since 1980, even though refugees have a history of boosting our economy. In addition, our reluctance to accept refugees on account of misplaced fears of terrorism threatens to exacerbate the refugee crisis by transferring the burden to nations which sit on the border of instability.

 

The year is 2010. Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, sets himself ablaze in front of a government building in in protest of the seizure of his fruit cart. He’s protesting the injustices of a corrupt government, but in the process, he sparks a wave of popular revolt that will sweep over the Arab World, reaching from Morocco to Yemen. However, the place that has seen the largest change over the past eight years is the nation of Syria.

During that period of unrest, known as the Arab Spring, Syria quickly erupted into civil war after fifteen boys were captured and tortured for painting anti-government graffiti. The revolution, however, had been a long time coming, with the Sunni majority unhappy with the rule of Alawite Dictator Bashar al-Assad, and the disproportionate representation of Alawites in the military and government. The resulting war, still ongoing, has killed around 400,000 and created another 11.6 million refugees both inside and out of the country, according to some estimates.

Putting the conflict itself and all of its human rights violations aside, the refugees themselves pose an interesting question: what should be done. In addition to the 6 million Syrians displaced within their country, around 5.6 million have fled to other nations. These refugees worry  citizens around the globe, who fear economic and social chaos. However, the Western apathy towards the Syrian refugee crisis has forced the surrounding nations, particularly Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, to take on the brunt of the crisis, and, inadvertently, we’ve nearly forced these nations into a state of instability even though the refugees would be a boon to our economy as opposed to a burden on theirs.

Had Americans, or Europeans, for that matter, been more open to allowing in refugees, even with the extensive security checks already in place, places like Lebanon wouldn’t be at such risk of descending into conflict as the sectarian and economic conditions wouldn’t have deteriorated to such a state.”

Turkey

Over 3.6 million Syrian refugees have found themselves in Turkey, a non-Arab country bordering war-torn Syria to the north. A large number of the refugees in Turkey have actually begun to integrate into the nation’s culture, starting businesses and finding homes. Turkey has been hailed as a safe haven for refugees, helping a vast number of Syrians find their footing in a new country. Many Syrians have even filed for citizenship.

However, Turkey holds about 64% of expatriate Syrian refugees, and the sheer concentration has caused issues in the nation as anti-refugee sentiment rises. President Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that the refugees begin to return home to a country where the war hasn’t even ended. There have even been reports of violence against Syrian transplants, similar to those seen in England. Such sentiment threatens to uproot Syrian families who have taken extremely well to their new, if temporary, home. The successes seen in Turkey have been cut short by the sheer magnitude of the problem, as the same sentiments in Europe and America resound through the alleyways of Istanbul and Ankara.

 

Lebanon

While Turkey may lead the world in the number of refugees it has accepted, Lebanon exceeds them in terms of proportion, with some sources saying that the influx of refugees has caused a 25% increase in the population, with other saying that refugees account for 50% of the Lebanese population.

The reception of refugees into Lebanon has been a mixed bag, with some, particularly in urban regions, wary of the newcomers, while other, in the rural areas of the Bekaa Valley, accepting them with open arms.

since the introduction of the Refugee Act of 1980, there have been zero terrorist attacks committed by refugees”

Here, too, are Syrians beginning to return to their homeland, unwelcome after seven years of war and temporary residence. However, unlike in Turkey, where Syrian refugees were allowed to start businesses and actually helped the economy, in Lebanon, many are relegated to tent cities, and have cost the country billions in aid and tanked the GDP. Furthermore, their presence threatens the sectarian Lebanese power balance, a fragile patchwork of different religious groups that call the Mediterranean nation home.

 

Jordan

Perhaps best known as Israel’s neighbor to the East, Jordan is a poor Hashemite parliamentary monarchy ruled by King Abdullah II. While the country hasn’t absorbed quite the proportion of refugees as Lebanon, Syrians now make up about 7% of the nation’s population. Perception of refugees here is a bit different than in the nations mentioned above.

As in Lebanon, the influx of those fleeing the terror and gas attacks of the al-Assad regime has costed Jordan billions of dollars, only a fraction of which has been covered by international aid. Furthermore, the Syrian offensive in June forced even more to the Jordanian border. However, Jordan sealed the border with Syria in 2016, the act trapping 60,000 in a war zone.

Jordanians responded with the creation of this hashtag, which translates to “Open the Border.”

افتحوا_الحدود#

In fact, Jordanian perception of the refugees is overall positive, and despite the knowledge that their presence has had an overall negative effect on their nation’s already fraught economy, most are eager to welcome in more.

 

The United States of America

Between the years 2011 and 2016, the US accepted about 18,000 Syrian refugees, and the number has only decreased with Trump’s presidency.

There is evidence that the arrival of refugees into the US has actually helped local economies, especially in regions with aging populations, where the addition of refugees, as well as other migrants, has helped combat Michigan’s declining population. Furthermore, refugees in the US are 1.5 times more likely to start their own businesses than the US-born population. Not only are those fleeing from terror working hard, they’re also generating more jobs.

According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, just about half of Americans think that our nation has a duty to accept refugees, likely connected to rhetoric regarding potential terrorist attacks perpetrated by said refugees. However, since the introduction of the Refugee Act of 1980, there have been zero terrorist attacks committed by refugees. However, regarding domestic terror in the US, out of 85 terror attacks perpetrated between 9/11 and the final day of 2016, only 23 were motivated by Islamic fundamentalism or jihadism. 74% of these attacks were perpetrated by far-right extremists.

Even fears of increases in rape and theft with the advent of refugees are unfounded; in cities like Springfield, Michigan, which has received one of the highest numbers of refugees in the US per capita, the crime rates actually decreased. British MP Nigel Farage’s claim that Sweden became the “rape capital of the world” after letting in refugees has also been proven false.

Despite both the economic boon that refugees offer, as well as the falsehood of most claims about refugee violence, many Americans still don’t want to let refugees in. In 2018, the US admitted 22,491 refugees from any country in 2018– the lowest number since the imposition of the Refugee Act of 1980. Meanwhile, in the countries earlier examined, the presence of high numbers of refugees threatens instability in the countries currently inundated with Syrians.

Jordanians took to the streets earlier this year to protest economic reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund. (Photo: Ali Saadi)

Jordan, which has long been a poor nation, also saw protests triggered by the Arab Spring, though nothing as intense as Syria. However, even this year, there were protests in February regarding an increase in food prices. Things got even worse when the government attempted to impose a series of measures pushed by the International Monetary Fund; things go so bad that Jordan’s Prime Minister even stepped down. These protests have led some to speculate about the possibility of a violent uprising in the Arab nation.

 

Lebanon, where the new Parliament has failed to form a government since May of 2018, some fear that the primarily Sunni refugees may trigger a collapse of the nation’s fragile religious community. The presence of refugees, as well as the participation of the Lebanese group Hezbollah in the Civil War, has resulted in a spillover of fighting into Lebanon, particularly in the city of Arsal.

The American apathy towards the crisis now threatens to toss the Levant as a whole into chaos, exacerbating the instability of an already tense region. Had Americans, or Europeans, for that matter, been more open to allowing in refugees, even with the extensive security checks already in place, places like Lebanon wouldn’t be at such risk of descending into conflict as the sectarian and economic conditions wouldn’t have deteriorated to such a state. And if more nations do end up descending into conflict, our own names will be among those to blame.

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About the Writer
Nicholas Chang, Editor

Nicholas Chang is a Junior at Brookfield Academy. This is his second year working for the KnightWatch. Outside of newspaper, Nicholas is an active member...

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