The United Nation’s Refugee Day occurred June 20th, a day set aside to raise awareness about refugees resettled around the world. As of the June 2016, almost 12 million Syrians have been displaced, 4.8 million of which have registered for resettlement. To put the crisis into perspective, one quarter of Syrian inhabitants have sought refuge abroad since the start of the war back in 2011. These numbers do not account for those who have lost their lives during their journey to find safety and refuge.
TIME reported on July 1st that nearly 2,381 Syrian refugees have arrived in the United States during the month of June, a statistic showing the Obama administration fulfilling its aim to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the fiscal year. While this influx might seem like a step forward in managing the Syrian refugee crisis, it is merely a tiny number compared to the millions of Syrians who have been displaced since the start of the civil war. Front line countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have taken the largest share of the refugee burden, accepting a sum total of over 4 million Syrians into their borders. Germany also committed to welcoming over 800,000 Syrian refugees, putting the United States’s 10,000 quota to shame.
BBC News announced that about “70% of the population is without access to adequate drinking water, one in three people are unable to meet their basic food needs, and more than 2 million children are out of school, and four out of five people live in poverty.” This is not only a refugee crisis, it is a humanitarian one and the responses given by the international community fall short of adequately addressing the problem. With the Syrian refugee crisis as a continued problem for regional and world powers, international actors must undertake greater commitment and implement more effective policies regarding the 12 million displaced Syrians.
Back in early 2011, Syrian protesters took to the streets of Deraa after the arrest and torture of teenagers accused of painting revolutionary slogans on school walls. After security forces opened fired on the protesters, unrest broke out and throughout the nation people called for President Bashar al-Assad to resign. Opposition supporters took up arms at first as a defense mechanism against security forces stationed in their communities. Not long after, violence escalated into rebel brigades and government security forces fighting over the control of cities, descending the country full force into a civil war.
Over the course of the last five years, the conflict has evolved from merely a civil war between those for and against Assad into a war pitting religious sects against each other, creating room for radical extremist groups such as ISIS and attracting international involvement. Opposition groups are also deeply divided in terms of politics and thus fight for supremacy.
The development of the Syrian civil war into an international issue and the breading ground for radicalism has enabled the Syrian refugee crisis to persist. Neither the Assad regime or the opposition groups are willing to cooperate, and attempted peace talks have thus far yielded low results. The presence of ISIS also perpetrates the refugee problem since inhabitants of those communities in which ISIS controls flee from their homes, either becoming an IDP (internally displaced person) or seek refuge in front-line countries or Europe. As long as the Syrian civil war continues, it will generate more and more refugees.
The UN Security Council has called for the implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communique. Specifically, the United Nations mapped out the next steps as a “Syrian-led political process facilitated by the United Nations which would establish ‘credible, inclusive and non-sectarian governance’ within six months and set a schedule and process for the drafting of a new constitution…[under] free and fair elections [including] all Syrians — including members of the diaspora — eligible to participate.” Although the goals set by the UN provide a productive basis for resolving the crisis, actions carried out by individual countries serve as obstacles to achieving the ultimate goal of a peaceful transition to a unity government.
Major powers such as the United States and Russia support opposing sides of the civil war; as the U.S. and its allies work to support opposition forces, Russia and Iran work to bolster support for President Assad and his security forces. By learning from historical mistakes in the region, leaders involved in the crisis, such as the United States, Russia, Iran and Europe, must acknowledge that foreign involvement has led to escalation of violence and growing resentment by locals.
The international community could be doing more in terms of managing the refugee crisis short-term by: building more and safer camps, and providing more basic essentials and ensuring the supplies reach displaced peoples in areas difficult to access, or by simply admitting more refugees inside countries’ borders. These steps take an increase in resources dedicated to the crisis, but all hands on deck is what the crisis needs to end after five years of conflict and suffering.
To properly address the problem, we must look at the source fueling the crisis: the ongoing violence between Assad forces, opposition groups, ISIS and international actors. Thus, the international community must work to resolve the civil war in Syria in order to stop the long-term flux of Syrian refugees into front-line states, Europe and other parts of the world. The Washington Post highlights how continued military intervention in the form of airstrikes and militiamen from Russia and Iran jeopardize the fragile ceasefire to which both sides have reluctantly agreed.
In regards to dealing with current refugees, countries must focus on accommodation, adequately processing newcomers and performing security checks. Third party organizations must be employed to facilitate the process since capability might be an issue. Since the local governments of European cities must provide housing, education, and jobs to new arrivals, strengthening the role of the non-profit community as well as the private sector through a partnership is crucial in effectively managing the incoming refugees. By doing this, countries can better help refugees assimilate in their new community, which is important in terms of security and well-being for all parties involved.
In order to resolve the crisis in the long-run, major powers need to change the focus from individual interests in the region and unite under one clear goal: to end the violence. As long as violence persists, the refugee crisis will persist. Thus, retraction of military involvement and focus on peace talks are necessary to build a foundation on which a solution can be achieved. All actors involved must be on Syria’s side, carrying out policy and decision making with the best interest of Syria and the Syrian people in consideration. Thus, the future steps must be drafted by the Syrian people. International weigh in on what should be done in the end will only serve as a distraction and an obstacle to a truly democratic process. International actors cannot they themselves set up an interim government or carry out a transition strategy since it has proven disastrous and ineffective in the past. This crisis calls for a respect for sovereignty and the support for the Syrian people’s demands, and the international community must be careful in how it mediates a fragile balance between the two if they come in contrast with one another.
Violence in attempt to provoke a response or violence in attempt to react to a provocation always leads to the escalation of a conflict, and if not dealt with rationality and thorough consideration for the peoples involved, may lead to a crisis out of any single actor’s control. The world has witnessed this phenomenon may times before, and now we witness it in Syria. Through application of past mistakes and failed resolutions to similar problems, the international community must employ a strategy that may seem more passive, but will in the long run benefit the society involved by allowing it to resolve its problem in its own terms and conditions. Through support of democracy and peace talks, and without further provocation of violence, the gradual and long lasting process of peace will arise and allow Syrians to build their society as they see fit.