With the 2016 American Presidential Election behind us and a new Trump administration ahead, the future of Syrian refugees is uncertain. Throughout the campaign process, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump expressed contrasting opinions regarding admitting refugees into the United States, mainly whether to admit refugees to fulfill America’s global humanitarian duty or deny them entry into the U.S. due to national security threats.
On the campaign trail, Trump’s stance on admitting Syrian refugees into the U.S. depended a great deal on mobilizing his supporters through the use of fear. By highlighting the uncertainties that accompany the admittance of Syrian refugees—who they are, the possibility of relations with terrorist groups, and the relationship between refugees and crime rates—Trump succeeded in emphasizing all of the possible national security threats related to the Syrian refugee crisis. Trump capitalized on the risks by connecting these with radical Middle Eastern militant groups, such as Daesh, and by alluding to minute acts of terror that occurred across the US during the past year or so instigated by a refugee or immigrant. Trump frequently claimed that the security risks of allowing Syrian refugees in the US were more significant than the humanitarian duty America has towards these people. This message resonated well with his conservative supporters.
Another major issue that was heavily debated between the two candidates on the issue of Syrian refugees was the cost, including screening refugees prior to entry into the US, housing refugees and feeding the entrants. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, every Middle Eastern refugee relocated to the United States costs about $64,370 in the first five years. However, with this expense amount in mind, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), most refugees are considered self-sufficient within five years. Despite the fact that Syrian refugees do receive federal funding and other state monetary assistance, they are eventually allowed to get a job and contributing a lifetime of taxes.
Trump’s overall argument to keep refugees out, such as terrorist threat and crime rate increases, relied on inflated claims and statistics. According to the results of the German Federal Criminal Police Office, Bundeskriminalamt (BKA) report “crimes committed by refugees and undocumented immigrants actually fell by 18 percent between January and March” of this year in Germany. While Syrians make up a part of the majority of refugees in Germany, these refugees are underrepresented in crime statistics. A basic principle in statistics is correlation does not prove causation, and Trump’s way of attributing facts to certain events that appear to correlate is not a method that should have been utilized throughout the campaign. Instead, he capitalized on emotion rather than realistic statistics and proven facts which was disappointing especially for an American presidential candidate.
Additionally, Trump frequently disregarded the important counter-argument that America does indeed have a moral duty as a global superpower towards people that experience such unfortunate circumstances within their homelands. According to the United Nations, several smaller countries around the world such have taken in millions of refugees, with Turkey taking in about 2.2 million, Lebanon 1.1 million, and Jordan 630,000. The United States is much more capable of admitting refugees and offering them rescue from their war torn home and terrorist occupied land, as well as giving them the second chance they need at life. Taking in refugees could go a long way in winning the hearts and minds of people around the world, gradually reducing the global animus fueling extremism and anti-Western targeted terrorism.
About six in ten Syrians are now displaced from their home. The severity of their situation escalates even after they escape direct threat of the Syrian Civil War. According to Amnesty International, approximately 250,000 Syrians have been killed and 13.5 million Syrians are in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. According to The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, an overwhelming majority of refugees are women and children, about 50.5%, who have no other options available to them. They hope that they will only be in the camps for a short time, but the reality is months or even years before they can either go back home or get permanently resettled outside the conflict zone due to financial sponsorship obstacles.
This autumn, a typical seventeen-year-old in the United States is currently getting ready for homecoming, going to school, and socializing with her friends. Meanwhile, a seventeen-year-old Syrian refugee has just fled from her hometown, has been separated from her family, and has had to relocate to a completely foreign land only to live in a refugee camp with unimaginable living conditions.
However, it is not such a stretch to imagine that the American seventeen-year old could have similar horrors. A mere 150 years ago, the United States was embroiled in its own civil war when 200,000 American civilians fled their homes and were displaced with no one to give them aid or comfort. One can easily forget the plight of others, especially when life is comfortable, and the “others” do not look or speak like you. One can easily forget the human cost of war when it is so far away. There is an entire generation of children who are growing up knowing nothing but chaos, uncertainty, and violence. We must do more to help those affected by this terrible conflict.
While the election is over and a Trump presidency is imminent, the future of the refugees remains unclear. Though Trump’s views on this issue make it difficult to be optimistic, we hope that America will do right by our global civic duty and help the Syrian refugees. If he does continue with his original campaign discourse, then severe political and humanitarian consequences loom worldwide.