Three leading experts in refugee policy discussed the problems surrounding the management of the Syrian and Middle Eastern refugee crisis by different countries at a roundtable on Tuesday.
Lakhdar Brahimi — a practitioner-in-residence at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Algeria — explained the hardships that refugees face, stressing the need for other countries to be aware of these struggles.
“A refugee is a person that feels they have no choice but to leave their home country,” Brahimi said. “It is usually an event that occurs suddenly, and oftentimes their destination is unknown. Many believe it is a provisional situation that will last a few days, weeks or months.”
Prof. Alexander Aleinikoff, law, Columbia University, said a refugee’s presence in a host country typically lasts much longer.
“Some people spend decades as refugees,” Aleinikoff said. “In a refugee camp in Kenya, it was estimated that there were 10,000 children who were born to people who were born in that camp.”
Aleinikoff added that European nations should not be concerned by the numbers of refugees seeking asylum.
“Usually the press and politicians talk about the numbers: 50 million displaced people, 10 million Syrian refugees,” he said. “But to me it’s not the numbers that are the crisis. These numbers can be handled, and they have been handled before.”
Turkey’s acceptance of refugees is an excellent example of this, according to Lisel Hintz, a postdoctoral fellow at the Einaudi Center.
“Turkey is hosting between 2.7 and 3 million refugees,” Hintz said. “They can be integrated. We shouldn’t allow this huge number to be an argument for why we aren’t seeing more progress on the issue.”
Hintz added that Turkey has been reluctant to offer asylum to large numbers of refugees due to cultural conflict within the country.
“This is a country with many identity cleavages that it is already dealing with,” Hintz said. “Introducing a very large new population of refugees, in the eyes of the Turks, not only threatens to affect the fabric of their society, but also to take away their jobs.”
Countries also need to evaluate the refugee crisis from perspectives other than a humanitarian one, Aleinikoff said.
“What we need is an approach that brings in new actors, like development agencies, that can provide resources to hosting states,” he said. “Their involvement can promote economic development of the host region but also provide job opportunities for refugees.”
Aleinikoff said the United States has the responsibility of setting a better example for the rest of the world regarding the refugee crisis.
“The United States has not played its usual role of being a leader in solving major refugee crises,” Aleinikoff said. “We need to step up and help.”