So how do you feel about letting more migrants into America? Does your answer change if I say refugees instead of migrants? Does your answer change again if I say that we are talking about millions of refugees?
In light of NYU’s Syrian Refugee Awareness Week, I thought it was a good time research exactly why this topic—often misconstrued and thus misunderstood—warranted an awareness week.
So let’s back track. If it was not clear, the refugees referred to in the above questions are the Syrian refugees who are currently enduring the perpetual after effects of Syria’s 2011 Arab Spring Uprising. This includes civilian led protests against the Assad Regime’s failure to deliver on equalizing economic and political promises, as well as their continual violence against civilians. The civilian protests quickly stoked the radicalization of the Regime’s “militaristic” tactics (AKA torture) against any anti-Assad movements. In one instance, when the government was faced with punishing a group of children who used graffiti as a form of protest, the government saw it fit not only to torture, but also to murder those children for their sullying of the Assad Regime’s name.
At this point, tensions were undeniably high. The formation of the the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an anti-Assad fighter group, at first served as a harbinger for the ensuing civil war. However, the FSA quickly became partially dissociated due to religious differences, and partially radicalized with the arrival of jihadists in Syria. As a result, the freedom force seemed to stop. To make matters worse, IS arrived on the heels of the jihadists with the hopes of utilizing Syria’s political discord, public strife, and economic instability as an opportunity to edge into, and thereby control the territory—and unfortunately IS has been largely successful.
With all of these unpredictable and well armed forces vying for power, causalities skyrocketed. 2015 estimates show that for the two prior years nearly 1,400 Syrians were killed each week as a result of the uprising. However, since the UN stopped officially counting deaths two years prior to 2015, it looks like we may never know the actual number of people lost.
Having reviewed all of that, we are essentially at the point of present day, highly dilapidated Syria (except now Russia has entered the conversation, and is using economic restraints to restore the Assad regime—thanks, but no thanks, Russia).
So let’s take a look at what’s happening today.
As stated earlier, there are presently about five million Syrian “persons of concern”. The breakdown of their displacement is as follows: 2.5 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon, 633 thousand in Jordan, 245 thousand in Iraq, and 118 thousand in Egypt. (And those are only the documented refugees). But, you might be wondering, what is the U.S. doing with its plethora of resources and affordable Midwest living space?
Well, by the end of 2015 the U.S. had provided asylum to 2,290 Syrian refugees—even though Obama vowed to accept 10,000. In other words, America has “helped” an embarrassingly low .0005% of the total refuge seeking Syrians.
Great job America.
To make matters worse, even in the face of a worsening war, U.S. leaders are idling the topic, and subsequently deferring the acceptance of Syrian refugees. In February 2016 alone there were 36, 383 Syrian asylum applications submitted; and with Syria’s neighbors reaching their capacity and a remaining 12 million people in Syria waiting and wishing for the chance to getaway, the U.S.’s lack of action is really starting to take its toll.
Even more disappointing, by November 2015, 31 U.S. governors vowed to “protect” their states from the unknown dangers of Syrian refugees. Key word there was “unknown”. These governors who are fearfully attempting to blockade Syrians from asylum in America do not even have a citable reason for their irrational phobia towards the refugees. In fact, there is evidence that supporting the suppressed can lead to quite a symbiotic relationship between refugee and refuge. Case and point: Cleveland, Ohio spent $4.8 million on settling refugees and enjoyed a $48 million boost in the economy. So what is America so scared of?
Well, it seems misinformed, and thus fearful state leaders are denying Syrians asylum due to the infamous and shameful “Trump” view that all Muslims—even though not all Syrians are Muslim—are question marks in the face of American security. Even worse, these fearful leaders’ actions are instilling and affirming that terrifying trump objective—“a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”—in all of their supporters.
Right now, the U.S. is watching the brutal and senseless repression of a people, as they beg for help, and it is doing very little in response. As history has shown, a lack of response to those in need can often come to nurture a sense of resentment in the repressed. It is quite plausible the Syrians may develop a resentment towards those who ignored their calls, which will likely further deprecate the already delicate U.S.-Syrian relations.
America is making its bed, and it will have to lay in it.
Luckily, that is where we come into the frame. Yes, it has been five years of a lack of action, but, as they say, better late than never. College kids are quite literally the leaders of tomorrow—if not of today—and as corny as it may sound, we can all do something about the Syrian Crisis.
Today at NYU a number of undergraduate and graduate students are taking it upon themselves to quell the Syrian crisis. Anybody hear about the spring trip to Berlin where NYU students volunteered at shelters for Syrian refugees? Well, that was organized by an NYU sophomore without the “blessing of NYU”—as he put it. In other words, the finances and safety guidelines were on him.
How about the NGO Committee on Migration? A number of NYU students hold official positions there, and work almost daily to improve the education on and support of refugees. Additionally, the NGO Committee on Migration holds info meetings open to the public on how to get involved almost every month at the Church Center UN. (Psst, that’s something you can do to get involved.)
Last but not least, you can use social media, like senior GLS student, Madison McCormick. McCormick, who lived and saw the ripple affects of the Syrian Refugee Crisis during her study abroad experience in Europe came back enlivened to act. However, upon retuning to the U.S., McCormick realized that even though the war and refugees were growing, the awareness of the crisis had dwindled between Europe and America.
Surprise, surprise: Americans came off as ignorant once again. McCormick, much like many of us, saw herself as highly focused on school and incredibly busy with her studies. And yet, she felt she had to make time to do something about this. Thus came the creation of @tagandseek. McCormick’s Instagram page uses art to explore and educate on the Syrian refugee crisis. McCormick has also sold some of her art in the form of stickers to raise funds for refugee aid. And this all started from one art project, one Instagram account, one idea.
Getting involved in such overwhelming topics such as the Syrian Refugee Crisis may seem intimidating—especially given the rate at which the facts on the topic are changing. But, if we don’t, who will?
Artwork Courtesy of @tagandseek.