Forum

Syrian refugees global issue without solution

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

The Middle East is a desperately complex system of competing states and ethnic groups, and it doesn’t take much to send it into chaos. In the past week, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has caused a fresh surge of panic and confusion in the region, as its militants attacked — and continue to attack — Syrian villages along the northern-central border with tanks and heavy artillery, according to The New York Times. These attacks have sent new waves of Syrian refugees into surrounding countries.

Of course, Syrian refugees flooding into surrounding nations is hardly surprising, given that more than 3 million refugees have fled their nation since 2012, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The vast majority of them have gone to nearby nations, including Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Others have gone to the European Union, particularly to Sweden and Norway. While regarding Syrian refugees as a regional problem would be easier for the United States, Syrian refugees are a global issue. The influx of massive numbers of refugees stresses an unstable, volatile regional system economically and socially.

First off, there’s a basic, uncomfortable dilemma: people are expensive. Since the Syrian war began, 500,000 refugees have sought asylum in Jordan, costing the Jordanian government over $800 million, according to Al-Jazeera, while Turkey has spent over $2 billion hosting refugees, according to IRIN News. Syrian refugees have cost the Lebanese economy around $7.5 billion, according to Reuters .

To make matters worse, supporting refugees in Norway comes to $125,000 per person, per year, according to The New York Times. It’s much cheaper to support refugees in the Middle East than in Europe, but it’s not as if the Norwegian government can simply package up its tax dollars and send them to Jordan’s relief efforts.

Sending money directly to the source of the problem would be the ideal solution, but a glaring problem remains: the Middle East is notoriously unstable, and unstable systems often lack methods to ensure that humanitarian aid funds help the people they’re meant for. In fact, much of ISIS’s funding gets routed through front companies and regional charities, according to The New York Times. Sending money is a good solution in theory, but not a practical one.

To make matters worse, the flood of refugees presents a social problem in addition to the economic ones. Syrian refugees themselves present a mix of ethnic groups, some of which are ethnically Syrian, while some are Kurds. The Syrians fleeing to Turkey in recent weeks are primarily Kurdish. Sometimes refugees can assimilate well into the nation that hosts them, but sometimes they can’t. A major stumbling block to effective Syrian assimilation is the sheer number of people looking for asylum.

The number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon currently exceeds one million, more than a third of their total population. Syrian refugees in Jordan are joined by 1.8 million Palestinian and 450,000 Iraqi refugees, competing with native Jordanians in an economy with an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent, according to Sada. In short, the influx of Syrian refugees presents a major stress on the economies and societies of the surrounding area.

The social challenges presented by Syrian refugees have even less of a clear solution than the economic challenges, partially because they must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. A solution that might work in Lebanon might not work in Jordan. Even if the United States had an effective way to funnel funds into the region — which it doesn’t really — the problem of dealing with such large populations in desperate need of aid would remain.

The Syrian refugee crisis is indeed a global crisis, but one that lacks a clear solution.