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What, if anything, should the United States do to help combat the global refugee crisis?

Discussion Leader: 
Posted Date: 10/12/2015

This week’s question is based on a recently published HDIAC Spotlight on the refugee crisis. The global refugee crisis is an ongoing concern. People are fleeing their homes and countries due to armed conflict, violence, human rights violations and natural disasters. As images of refugees flash across television screens and newspapers, there is global discussion of how to best proceed. 

Syrian Kurdish refugees travel into Turkey, near the town of Kobani. (Photo courtesy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees)


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The global refugee crisis is not something the United States can take on or fix by itself. There needs to be a global response to the global crisis. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will increase the number of refugees admitted into the country over the next couple of years, which is definitely a start on how the United States can particpate in easing the crisis. But, when there are millions of refugees, taking in 15,000 more than originally expected is merely a drop in the bucket. 

The United States needs to work with its allies to mitigate the consequence of millions of refugees hitting single countries and regions.  

A refugee is a person who is forced to leave his/her country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. Most refuges do not wish to leave their home countries, but feel as if they have no choice. In order to control the crisis, countries of origin need to oversee the factors that are manageable. In countries experiencing civil strife and violence, policy and action should provide guidance and structure to enable stability. When diplomacy does not work, reinforcements should be brought in to help maintain or re-establish security. With regard to natural disasters, it is essential that citizens play a part in the rebuilding of their communities. Relocating to another country is only a temporary solution and should be avoided in order to establish a stronger community in the aftermath of a disaster.

As for host countries, temporary asylum should be granted to those who are escaping inhumane conditions, however asylum should be temporary and should require one, two and five year plans for re-entry to their country of origin or for assimilation to their host country.


The global refugee crisis is not going to come to an end in the foreseeable future. In order to assist refugees, the U.S. should help them re-establish, rebuild and reacclimatize to their countries of origin. This will build stronger communities within these countries and advance foreign ties for the U.S.

Despite the recent media coverage, this crisis is not new.  The Arab Spring began in the fall / winter of 2010, including uprisings and associated refugee outflows in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Bahrain, and Syria.  We have also witnessed extensive conflicts and natural disasters in Africa, Asia, and Russia/Ukraine.  Currently, the longest and deadliest crisis is the Syrian civil war which began in March of 2011.  By June 2013, the UN stated Syria was the "worst humanitarian disaster" since the cold war with more than 1 million refugees.  By the end of the same year, nearly 2.5 million Syrians sought refuge from the crisis.  

Unfortunately, in between pop-culture updates, the media has only recently decided to focus on the human impacts of these worldwide events.  Addressing these crises as they occur and providing long-term support - not when the media deems appropriate - will help alleviate the impacts on these individuals and families.

Historically, the United States has been a world leader in recognizing displacement and the need to resettle refugees. With Syria's refugee crisis, the United States needs to wake up and realize that since we are one of the most powerful and wealthy nations in the world, we need to become one of the leaders of providing humanitarian aid. Regardless of geography, nations across the world need to get off the mindset of thinking that this crisis won't have an impact - it is an imperative that the United States provide assistance to more refugees. Otherwise, this crisis will continue to threaten regional stability.

As was stated before, this crisis is nothing new, and yet the large numbers are starting to affect many of our allies. It might be beneficial to collaborate and share lists of suspected militants with those who are checking border crossings. Adding to that, it might be beneficial to address the underlying problems of what leads to refugee flow, such as armed conflict, sectarian violence, and weak central governments.

Other citizens are piggybacking the refugee flow in seek of better economic conditions. It might reduce the burden to check nationality when available, as those fleeing poverty, not violence, have no legitimate claim to asylum.