SANTA ANA, California — Today, there are over 45 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, the most since 1994, year of the Rwandan genocide. The number of refugees has swelled to 15.4 million, half of them children, and nearly a million among them asylum seekers.
War has been the major cause, and the countries of Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan provide the majority of refugees — but, what about the refugee host countries?
Despite the fact that taking in refugees can be a burden for a host country, many developing countries have accepted the challenge, and more than 80% of asylum seekers find refuge in developing countries. The United States has a great history of resettling refugees, however, the current crisis in Syria is proving to be a challenge in terms of the U.S.’s ability to provide refugees asylum.
While 135,000 Syrian refugees have applied for asylum in the United States, only 31 have been accepted this past year.
Currently being blamed for this egregious discrepancy is the “overly broad immigration bars,” which has lived up to their name by barring the way for the vast majority of Syrian refugees hoping to enter America. Many are calling for Syrians to be exempt from these bars considering the gravity of the crisis and the chance to do untold good at a very little expense.
The U.S. could make a step in this direction by creating a viable refugee process–as of now the requirements are unreasonable and the process can take over a year. However, this is short considering that a family reunification visa can take up to twelve years.
These refugee procedures were made and are kept in place for the American people’s best interest. Nevertheless, exceptions seem to be called for in response to what the UN has called the greatest humanitarian crisis of modern times.
Although Lebanon is much closer to the crisis than the United States, and its borders are completely open to refugees, it is much less able as a country to make room for such a large amount of people without great turmoil taking place. It is currently hosting nearly 900,000 Syrian refugees, which constitutes over 20% of its population.
Due to this massive influx, conditions in Lebanon such as health care, education, and the economy have worsened.
The more the United States and other countries can do to take the burden off of refugee host countries like Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, which are staggering under their new load of refugees, the better.
Many within the U.K. are calling their nation to do more in response to the U.N.’s goal of helping resettle 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees. Like the United States, which has provided $1.3 Billion in aid to Syrian refugees, Britain has generously donated to the cause, around $830 million.
Despite this tremendous financial gift, the Refugee Council found that only 0.1% of refugees fleeing the Syrian crisis have found asylum in Britain. In addition to streamlining the process of accepting refugees, a resettlement establishment within countries such as the U.S. and Britain would go a long way in hitting and surpassing the 30,000 person U.N. benchmark.
With the Syrian refugee crisis only expected to get worse, with a predicted 1.5 million more seeking refuge in the coming year, western governments need to step up and face the challenge head on. In order to do so, they have to recalibrate their refugee processes and establish a place for refugees within their borders. If they can do that, it will have been a great triumph in the face of terrible tragedy.
– Jordan Schunk
Sources: AINA, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, UNHCR, Global Post