Column: We aren’t doing enough to help the Syrian refugee crisis

A Syrian refugee boy walks in a sunflower field while he and other migrants wait inside and outside a bus before being taken by Hungarian police to board a train to the Austrian border, in Roszke, southern Hungary, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2015. (Muhammed Muheisen/AP)

According to MercyCorps, the world is currently experiencing the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Since 2011, over four million people have fled Syria to nearby Arabic countries, Turkey and, most recently, Europe.

To put the crisis into perspective, over half of Syria’s population has been displaced from their original homes. Almost 40 percent of those displaced have left the country in the past four and half years. Both of those numbers don’t even include those who have been killed in the civil war.

The countries who are taking these refugees have some stark numbers too. Lebanon for example has grown in population by over a million since the civil war began, making one in five people who live in the small country a refugee. Turkey, while much larger in population and size, has taken over two million refugees.

The situation is growing stark. The exodus of refugees out of Syria does not seem to be slowing down and very quickly countries around Syria are reaching their breaking point. Financially and ethically this crisis cannot continue to be handled in such a manner. Europe and the entire Middle East are about to experience their own crisis if refugees continue to pour out of their war stricken country.

There are two perspectives that the U.S. has to look at this crisis with. One is the human factor; the fact that millions of people have become displaced from their homes and forced to relocate to foreign lands. Many Syrians currently live in huge tent cities that number in the hundreds of thousands that are funded by the host countries and the U.N. They live on minimal food and next to no personal possessions, much of what they owned had to be left behind in Syria.

These people before the war were not exclusively poor, many were shop owners, bankers and scholars who didn’t have any choice but to get out of the war zone. Images depict refugees getting off boats and trucks in suits, designer clothing and sunglasses. These are not opportunists who want to move to another country to mooch off government benefits, they are normal people seeking the restoration of their lives. They want peace and stability, and a second chance to start their lives again in a new home. 

Another factor is the burden on other countries, if for not the sake of the refugees, it should be for the sake of our allies that the U.S. help remediate the refugee crisis. The financial and physical burden of housing hundreds of thousands or millions of refugees is immense, potentially crippling to these countries gracious enough to take Syrian refugees. According to CNBC the cost for Turkey to house their 2.2 million refugees has been to the bill of $7.6 billion. And in Ireland, BusinessInsider reports that the cost for the country to house only 4,000 has been $54 million. 

According to the New York Times, since the Syrian Refugee Crisis began the United States has taken only 1,500 refugees, and number absolutely and relatively small. Despite plans to raise U.S refugee quotas in the upcoming years to around a hundred thousand refugees a year, these refugees still face a huge backlog. A person applying for refugee status today would have to wait until 2017 to have their application considered. Even then it can take up to two years for an application to be approved. That takes us to 2019 before any refugee can be granted admission to the United States. Dangerously too long.

The United States has a duty as a country to help the refugees who flee in ever increasing numbers from Syria. The U.S is a beacon of freedom, humanity and peace and despite the country’s track record of not being that beacon at all times, this is the time the U.S need to step up.

Hillary Clinton called for the U.S to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees, on Sept. 20. Marking a very good step in the right direction for someone like her to make such a call. 

Despite Republican concerns that these Syrian refugees might contain terror cells, the country needs to realize the people who want to commit violence are going to overwhelmingly stay in Syria: the ones leaving are those who want to escape the violence. And then, once politicians and government officials are able to look beyond the financial and infrastructural concerns and realize that it is our human duty to help these people, the U.S can begin to bring in more of these people.

It is not too late. Now is the time that the U.S. has to help these people.


Colin Mortimer is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at colin.mortimer@uconn.edu.