U.S. Should Extend Compassion to Refugees

Sean Para, Columnist

Across the world, societies in both developed and developing countries are struggling to cope with the largest migration crisis since the World War II. The enormity of the current worldwide refugee problem is hard to come to terms with — about 60 million people are refugees. In 2015, 1.3 million people claimed asylum in the European Union. Germany alone received about 1.1 million people in 2015. Stable countries in the Middle East and Africa have taken even larger numbers of refugees. For example, the Syrian War alone has displaced almost 5 million officially registered international refugees. Of these, Germany has taken about 500,000 Syrians, while Turkey has taken 2.8 million and Lebanon has taken more than 1 million. The U.S. and Europe need to own up to their duties and open their borders to the world’s refugees. Failure to do so will have drastic repercussions for the rest of the world that will ultimately come back to bite the West.

What makes Lebanon’s refugee situation so staggering is that these refugees represent about 20 percent of Lebanon’s population, which numbers less than 6 million. European countries’ refugee-citizen ratios are dwarfed by statistics like this. In response to this grave crisis, the wealthy countries most suited to bear the burden are instead shirking their responsibilities, creating unsustainable demographic and economic situations in the developing world’s host countries.

While Sweden has 14.7 refugees per thousand inhabitants, much poorer countries have much higher ratios. Per 1,000 inhabitants, Lebanon has, as previously stated, 208.9 refugees, Jordan has 89.6 refugees and Turkey has 23.7 refugees. These countries do not have the resources or bureaucratic infrastructure to support such an influx of refugees. While European countries have certainly taken in a huge number of refugees, they are increasingly reluctant to take in more, even as the flow of asylum seekers shows no signs of abatement — 91,671 migrants entered Germany in January of 2016. Until the current conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries subside, this may be the new normal. Lebanon’s unstable political arrangement — one that allows power to be shared between Christians, Sunnis and Shia — has been gravely upset by the influx of mainly Sunni refugees and the emergence of Hezbollah, a Shia militia and political party, as a hegemonic political force in the country. Lebanon could very well be the next Middle Eastern country to collapse into civil war. Stories like this one can be found all across the Middle East. The past years’ pattern of state collapse could continue and worsen, creating an even bigger crisis that Europe would have to address.

In the midst of the current situation, the U.S. has blatantly disregarded its moral duty to accept more refugees. As of February 2016, the U.S. has taken in only 2,819 refugees. This is a drop in the bucket, representing about 0.075 percent of Syrian refugees. The U.S.’s goal of resettling 10,000 refugees in 2016 is almost cruelly unambitious. Even there we are failing, having admitted only 841 refugees between the announcement of the target in September and Feb. 22. By comparison, Canada, which has one tenth of the United States’ population, has accepted more than 26,000 Syrian refugees since Nov. 4.

The calls to bar all Muslim refugees made by many politicians in recent months since the San Bernardino attack — Donald Trump being the most noteworthy — verge on being inhuman. It is shocking to see so little compassion and kindness expressed by the political establishment in a country purportedly built around justice. Where is our “city upon a hill”? Most remember the horrors of the Holocaust, but what about the U.S.’s refusal to aid Jewish refugees in the 1930s? If the U.S. is going to try to live up to its principles, it must dramatically raise the number of refugees that it admits — and do so right now, before it is too late.