The Syrian refugee crisis is only going to get worse, testing the world’s capacity for compassion and threatening the multinational model of the European Union, according to two professors at IPFW.
Aside from an end to Syria’s civil war, the best remedy is for wealthy nations to receive more refugees and boost humanitarian aid to millions of refugees who have been accepted by Syria’s neighbors, James Toole and Ann Livschiz said Wednesday during a panel discussion at Helmke Library.
They weren’t optimistic.
Toole, a political science professor, predicted European nations will build border walls to stem the flow of refugees across the continent. And he said the U.S. response to the crisis "will continue to be bad, and likely get worse" as presidential election campaigns focus on domestic issues.
The Obama administration has pledged to bring at least 10,000 Syrian refugees to America in fiscal 2016, up from 1,500 in fiscal 2015. Toole called the new target "the tiniest drop in the bucket" when 12 million people have been displaced by civil war.
Livschiz, a history professor, said she sees "a tiny sliver of hope" if the United States welcomes refugees as a mark of its "greatness" and "exceptionalism." Livschiz is a naturalized U.S. citizen whose family fled the former Soviet Union in 1988.
"There just needs to be a political will and a lobbying group that is going to decide that this is something that’s worth fighting for and making a big fuss about," Livschiz said.
But Toole observed, "The hardest lobbying groups to form are ones that deal with widely dispersed people or people with very little political or economic clout."
He noted that there has been no cohesive, collective response to the refugee crisis in Europe. Germany and Sweden have been hospitable to asylum seekers, while Hungary and Denmark have been hostile. All four are covered by the Schengen Agreement, a 26-nation area that allows people to freely cross borders for work, study, travel and trade.
"This idea that countries within Schengen will start closing off their borders with one another, which has already started, is a fundamental threat to this European way of life," Toole said.
"The moment that starts breaking down, it makes people question what European unity is all about," he said.
Livschiz said studies show refugees have greater rates of employment and start more businesses than do migrants. Syrian workers and consumers could spur economic growth in European countries that have older populations and labor shortages, she said.
"If you don’t want to (accept refugees) for humanitarian reasons," she said, "you can actually do it as a strategic way to invest in human resources."
Toole said oil-rich monarchies in the Middle East should become involved, but Livschiz cautioned that those nations do not extend citizenship or rights to refugees.
"Where they want to be are democratic regimes," she said. "They are not running to Russia."
Four of Syria’s neighbors – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – have taken in 4 million Syrian refugees. Toole said the United States, European Union and other countries should be providing more assistance to relieve the strain on "front-line states."
Europe has "a tremendous interest in doing this, because the better off people are in Turkey, Jordan (and) Lebanon, the less likely they are going to be to make a harrowing journey through Europe to try to make their prospects better," he said.
Toole said U.S. and European aid to the front-line states "is nowhere near enough. Our country and European countries can afford much, much more than they are willing to spend."
According to a White House blog posted Tuesday, the U.S. has given $4 billion in humanitarian aid to Syrians and Syrian refugees since the civil war began in 2011.
NPR reported Monday that the United Nations’ refugee agency has received less than 40 percent of the $4.5 billion it sought from governments, corporations and people this year to help refugees living in countries neighboring Syria.