American Leadership and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

By Alexander Werman
Contributing Writer
October 19th, 2016

The Syrian Civil war is the greatest humanitarian crisis of this generation. The conflict has displaced 12 million Syrians and 4.8 million have fled the country. These refugees in Europe and the Middle East are suffering a humanitarian catastrophe – and the United States needs to help.

In the face of this global challenge the United States should once again step up to its leading role. The United States should contribute another billion dollars to help Syrian refugees, and admit an additional 20,000 Syrian refugees in 2017.

A $1 billion contribution from the United States to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) would leverage contributions by other states. If the United States takes the lead, other nations will contribute to cover the $4 billion funding shortfall. That $4 billion would provide food assistance for 1.8 million refugees, education for over 700,000 children, and healthcare for 1.4 million people. These funds are essential to prevent more suffering.

In addition, the United States should take in more refugees, thereby easing the burden currently placed on U.S. friends and allies. The United States has taken in just 10,000 Syrian refugees this past year, while Turkey already hosts 2.7 million. If the leader of the free world won’t take in more refugees, why should anyone else?

Public promotion of refugee resettlement would send a powerful message to the international community. It would simultaneously ease the burden on U.S. allies while urging other countries to follow this lead. In addition, taking in more refugees would better position the United States to counter ISIS propaganda, as well as to educate and shape Syria’s future leaders.

The risks of refugee admission are minimal.

First, the lengthy 2-year vetting process ensures that Islamic extremists do not infiltrate refugee flows. The Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are just a few of the organizations that collaborate and exchange information on each refugee case to ensure the nation’s safety. A specially trained refugee corps assesses each refugee before granting admittance. The security process has been refined over many years and is safer than ever.

Second, the United States has admitted refugees from the Middle East before, without issue. We have taken in roughly 115,000 Iraqi refugees since 2002. Not a single one has committed a terrorist attack in the United States.

Third, the long-term benefit of bringing refugees into America far outweighs any short-term cost the United States may incur. A huge segment of the U.S. population is nearing retirement age. Its pension and healthcare costs put growing stress on those who still work. As refugees and immigrants become contributing members of the workforce and part of the tax base, they will play a key role in reducing this cost burden.

Finally, maintaining stability throughout the world is a core part of U.S. humanitarian values. Many American families living here today came to escape persecution - don’t these Syrian families deserve the same chance?

Only through strong leadership can this crisis be addressed. The United States can lead the charge in helping those tired souls who are in dire need. Diversity that comes from taking in refugees and immigrants contributes to the greatness of this country, helping it to become the most innovative country the world has ever seen. It is time for the United States once again to step up and lead.

Alexander Werman is from New York, New York. He is currently a Master's Candidate in the Security Policy Studies Program at the Elliot School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Alex earned his Bachelor of Business Administration from Emory University in 2014. He has interned with the American Foreign Policy Council.

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