Refugee Crisis: A Failure of World Leadership and Lost Hope
It could be you. It could be your brother, sister, mother or father. We all could be refugees. But were are not. We are blessed to live in a country that so many risk their lives every day to reach.
The current refugee crisis is a wake up call of failed world leadership. Since the crisis in 2012, an estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes on foot with the clothes on their back and nothing else. This doesn't include the thousands of Iraqis who fled to neighboring countries to escape religious persecution. Often, they leave a family member behind due to death or starvation. They live out of tents, suitcases and years on end—without any hope of moving to another country to seek asylum. Thousands of refugees are now at the mercy of Western countries.
Oh, but we already know this, right? Why did it take a dead infant washed up on the shores of Turkey for the international community to wake up and see the biggest refugee crisis of our time? Compassion isn't enough.
I spent nearly two years in the Middle East documenting the refugee crisis and how the war in Syria and Iraq has caused millions to flee their homes to neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, only to find they are not always welcomed with open arms and assistance. Lebanon, around the size of Connecticut, hosts more than 1.5 million documented refugees, a country already with a population of over four million. Conditions barely meet the most basic standards for human living. Most live in open fields inside makeshifts tents, all year long, rain or snow, hot or cold.
The refugee crisis has put a strain on not only the refugees, but the host countries and communities taking in refugees.With some Lebanese barely making ends meet, monetary and food assistance and lodging is sparse. In July, the World Food Program (WFP) announced that it would reduce the value of food vouchers or “e-cards” by half in Lebanon providing only US $13.50 per person per month. Many refugees can't find work and if they do, the pay is much lower than if a non-refugee was doing the same work. Imagine, only having $13.50 per person per month? That is couple bags of produce, a loaf of bread, and milk, if you're lucky.
The ones who really suffer are the children, particularly those born into a crisis that will shape their future. A 2014 survey of 5,779 Syrian newborns found that 72 percent do not possess an official birthdate, raising concerns of their nationality by the Syrian authorities and host countries. Due to factors like transportation, lack of financial assistance and space, many children don't attend school. Many refugee children I met left home at the age of three and are still out of school at the age of seven.
In Lebanon alone, an estimated 10,000 Syrian newborns were registered with the UHNCR in 2013. That means thousands of babies are born inside camps with no running water, heat, and sanitary conditions. Every time I visited the camps throughout the country, there was a family welcoming me in their tent to see their new bundle of joy. While welcoming a child in the world should be an exciting time for parents, I couldn't help but wonder what additional stress it may cause them. Born into an ongoing civil war, will they go to school? Will they be pressured to join high ranking militia groups just to earn a living? What secret burden comes with having another child in a camp? Refugee children are more prone to be recruited to fight with ISIS and other groups because there are no employment opportunities. I can't imagine the trauma many of these children will have to deal with after seeing barrel bombs, death, and rejection because of their socio-economic status.
World leaders need to take drastic steps. The Obama administration has repeatedly miscalculated the refugee crisis and the campaign against the Islamic State. Every country needs to be a part of the effort. We can't donate our way out of this mess. Even if the war ended tomorrow, it's not like the refugees can go back to their homes and rebuild. With no money, houses plummeted by barrel bombs, and enough rumble throughout the country to build a man-made island, refugees are stuck in misery.
Germany has embraced the role of a moral and humanitarian leader in Europe, but it just can't be Germany. Since 2011, the U.S. has only admitted about 1,500 refugee resettlements, the most being this fiscal year. The Obama adminstration just announced it wants to admit 100,000 refugees by 2017, but then again the majority won't come from Syria and the way decision making works, nothing is fast. Maybe it's unrealistic to ask other developed , well-off countries to open up their borders to undocumented refugees. But it's not unrealistic to demand more options—real, long-term solutions to this crisis unraveling by the minute.
As the world waits to make the right strategic policy decision, hundreds are dying from barrel bombs in besieged cities, most of them women, children, and the elderly. Millions are displaced with only the clothes on their backs, missing family members, and no real sense of what the future holds. We had since 2011 to put plans in place, why are we waiting until 2016 to make real moves on a humanitarian crisis that will haunt us for years to come?