Syrian suffering, refugees continue: U.S. response is small and slow

Syrian refugees' camp in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by Fabio Sola Penna, published under Creative Commons license. 

Syrian refugees’ camp in Cappadocia, Turkey. Photo by Fabio Sola Penna, published under Creative Commons license.

In an eloquent cri de coeur, Lina Sergie Attar wrote about the agony of Syria:

“Now, the everyday violence and death Syrians witness is no longer recorded in full force unless events surpass the daily ‘acceptable’ quota of death—like it did on August 16 in Douma, after more than 100 people were killed by a regime aerial attack on a crowded marketplace. These kinds of mass tragedies, like the chemical weapons attack in 2013 and the Daraya massacre in 2012, capture the world’s attention—headlines, outrage, condemnation—for a few moments before Syria’s suffering once again fades to white noise. When the country has been reduced to smoldering ashes and its people have been forced into a mass exodus to new countries and new homes, our capacity to document—to speak or write and chant—dwindles. History collapses into a simple etcetera.”

More than four million refugees have fled Syria. Millions more remain inside Syria, but no longer in their own homes, internal refugees forced to flee for their lives. Six million? Seven million? More? No one can count, no one can know, except that there are more today than yesterday and tomorrow there will be even more, leaving homes, leaving jobs, looking for a place where bombs are not falling on your roof, where no rebel from whatever side shoots your son in the street, where no soldiers brandish guns as they rape your daughter, mother, sister, wife.

(Besides the Syrians, other refugees flee Iraq and Egypt and Afghanistan and on and on … countries torn by wars and people by brutal governments.)

The burden of refugee support falls disproportionately on countries that can least afford it. According to the United Nations refugee office, the refugees include

“2.1 million Syrians registered by UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, 1.9 million Syrians registered by the Government of Turkey, as well as more than 24,000 Syrian refugees registered in North Africa.”

A Vox chart shows the number of refugees per thousand in population in various countries: 232 per thousand in Lebanon, 87 per thousand in Jordan, 21 per thousand in Turkey. In contrast, the United States has 0.8 refugees per thousand. Germany, now welcoming refugees, has 2.6 per thousand. Canada does better, with 4.2 refugees per thousand.

In Europe, some welcome the refugees and others throw rocks and don Ku Klux Klan sheets. The EU voted on September 22 to increase aid to refugee relief agencies and to distribute 120,000 refugees among EU countries:

[M]igrants now in Greece, Hungary, and Italy will be moved to other countries over the next two years. Of the three EU members that have an opt-out agreement with the bloc on migration, Denmark and Ireland are part of Tuesday’s deal. Britain, the third country, is not—though it is accepting 4,000 refugees this year, and 20,000 over the next five.

That’s only a small portion of the refugees already in or on the road to Europe. Germany, Austria, France and Sweden have already opened doors to refugees, with Germany saying it expects 800,000 this year. Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania voted against the EU agreement.

Brazil has issued 7,000 visas to Syrians and registered 2000 refugees, more than any other country in Latin America, more than the United States. NPR reports that, “Of the 18,000 Syrians referred so far, the U.S. has accepted just 1,500 since the war in Syria began.” The U.S. now promises to increase its total refugee quota from 70,000 to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017, and to include 10,000 refugees among that number. But there’s a catch: the increase will come only if Congress approves funding, and Republicans in Congress are already resisting, and warning of “terrorists.”

Local refugee assistance organizations predict that Minnesota will get only a few Syrian refugees, despite a history of welcoming refugees. So far, one Syrian refugee family has settled in Rochester.

The United States response is small and slow. The need is large and immediate. Vox says it well:

“The United States, Canada, and Europe could be doing so much more to help. For one thing, they could contribute more to UNHCR, which is about $3 billion short on its 2015 funding requirements just for helping Syrians.

“But the single best thing they could do is take in more refugees.”

September articles on Syrian refugee crisis:

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