The head of the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, condemned a recent plan to create ‘safe zones’ in Syria, stating that Syria does not have the appropriate conditions to host refugees fleeing from the country’s nearly six-year-old war. Grandi and the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, held a meeting on February 3rd, where the Lebanese President stated that world powers should work with the Damascus government to create safe zones in Syria.
US President, Donald Trump, also stated that safe zones should exist in Syria and accused Europe of making a mistake by taking in millions of refugees. According to Reuters, Trump is planning to craft a plan for safe zones, which would involve increasing US military involvement in Syria. Trump had a face-to-face meeting with the Jordanian King, Abdallah, in Washington D.C. on February 2nd. Jordan currently has around 650,000 Syrian refugees and, along with Turkey and Lebanon, is also pushing for the creation of safe zones across their borders.
In response to seeing the scale of devastation in Aleppo, Grandi called for a focus on providing immediate humanitarian assistance to refugees rather than drafting these safe zones. “Let’s not waste time planning safe zones that will not be set up because they will not be safe enough for people to go back,” Grandi said. “Let’s concentrate on making peace so that everything becomes safe. That should be the investment.” The Syrian government has also responded, commenting that creating safe zones without coordinating with Damascus would be “unsafe and violate Syria’s sovereignty.”
Safe zones might appear to be a swift solution to a massive refugee crisis, but sadly the situation in Syria is much more complex. A safe zone means that a selected area would become a refuge for civilians displaced by war, and would be guarded by soldiers to ensure people remain safe. Aircrafts and drones would also be needed to protect civilians from air raids. This would be difficult in a country like Syria which is currently a war-zone with various rebel groups, and different areas controlled by President, Bashar al-Assad, the Kurdish militia, and Islamic State militants. According to a report published by NPR (National Public Radio), the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Marin Dempsey, estimated that it would cost a billion dollars a month to form a safe zone. President Trump has only stated that he would get the ‘Gulf States’ (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates) to pay for the safe zones, despite the fact that all of these countries have yet to confirm any financial support for this plan.
The goal of a safe zone is to reduce the number of refugees fleeing to other countries around the world. Although Syrian refugees might want to one day return to their country, the conditions to create a safe zone in Syria simply do not exist at the moment. Political peace, economic stability, and new infrastructures need to be created first, which will obviously take time to establish. Filippo Grandi has urged the wealthier countries to show more compassion towards refugees.
“These are people that flee from danger, they’re not dangerous themselves. We have serious concerns, and these are not new concerns, we’ve had them for some time, that the refugee issue in the industrialized world – in Europe, the US, Australia – is very politicized. It shouldn’t be.”
The UNHCR has estimated that 20,000 refugees might have been resettled in the United States over a 120 day period if the US had decided not to recently suspend its refugee resettlement program. The recent discussions of safe zones in Syria are an attempt to avoid much larger issues at hand that will affect displaced and vulnerable Syrians. Refugees need immediate help and safety, which safe zones in Syria cannot provide but resettlement can.