The civil war in Syria and its escalating refugee crisis is being called the worst humanitarian disaster of our time. About 11 million Syrians – almost half of the population – have been displaced since the Arab Spring began in March 2011. Conflicts between the regime, rebels, ethnic groups, secular fighters and Islamist jihadists make this one complicated mess. The war has killed more than 220,000 people, over half of them civilians. Cities are being bombed, innocent families are being traumatized and basic human needs are not being met. No wonder more than four million Syrians have fled their homeland seeking asylum around the world. You would too, under similar circumstances. While America is the largest financial donor to Syrian relief efforts, our willingness to accept refugees onto our soil has paled in comparison to other nations – a mere 1,500 since 2011 as compared to, say, Germany’s 800K. These people need more than money. They need a new place to call home, to raise their families and forge a future with hope and dignity. America needs to put aside fears and prejudices and welcome their fair share of Syrian refugees, because, first and foremost, they are human beings. If that’s not enough for you, here are a few other reasons.
1. America Has a History of Welcoming Refugees, and the Country is Richer for It
Historically, America has been one of the world’s safe havens for those escaping deplorable conditions. After World War II, hundreds of thousands of “displaced persons” were relocated here and became contributing members of society. Remember the uproar over Vietnamese “boat people” in the 1970s? At the time, some people were concerned the influx would negatively impact the fabric of American life. About 800,000 Vietnamese and South-East Asians fled their home and sought a new life here. Considering the U.S.’s role in the conflict that displaced them, it was the right thing to do. Today, the Vietnamese-American community is well-integrated into American life. Similarly, various waves of Cuban immigrants have resettled in the States. Many were seeking asylum from the Castro revolution, but even in the 1980s, over 125,000 Cubans made their way to these shores to escape communism. They have assimilated into America just fine, and have contributed to the rich diversity of the multicultural nation.
2. Nobody Wants to See More Dead Babies Wash Up on Beaches
It’s hard not to go numb when you hear figures like 7.6 million people displaced and 4 million living in crowded refugee camps. It’s too many to comprehend. But when this crisis distills down to one image of one tiny child, it kind of drives the dire reality of the situation home. Images of the lifeless body of three year old Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach circulated around the world media, and brought this tragedy down to its most basic level. We have to do something about this urgent issue, or images like this will become commonplace and history will look back on us as cold-hearted monsters.