The refugees and the new war

Michael Ignatieff writes: According to the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, since September 11 the US has taken in 784,000 refugees and of these only three have been arrested subsequently on terrorism-related charges.

Fear makes for bad strategy. A better policy starts by remembering a better America. In January 1957, none other than Elvis Presley sang a gospel tune called “There Will Be Peace in the Valley” on The Ed Sullivan Show to encourage Americans to welcome and donate to Hungarian refugees. After the 1975 collapse of South Vietnam, President Ford ordered an interagency task force to resettle 130,000 Vietnamese refugees; and later Jimmy Carter found room in America for Vietnamese boat people. In 1999, in a single month, the US processed four thousand Kosovar refugees through Fort Dix, New Jersey.

These examples show what can be done if the president authorizes rapid refugee clearance in US military installations, and if the US were to process and repatriate refugees directly from the frontline states of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. As Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative has been urging since September, direct processing in the camps themselves will cut down on deaths by drowning in the Mediterranean. If Europe and the United States show them a safe way out, refugees won’t take their chances by paying smugglers using rubber dinghies.

The Obama administration should say yes to the UNHCR appeal to settle 65,000 refugees on an expedited basis. Refugee agencies across the United States — as well as religious communities from all faiths — have said they will take the lead in resettlement and integration. If the Liberal government in Canada can take in 25,000 refugees directly from Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and process their security clearance at Canadian army bases, the US can do the same with 65,000.

Taking 65,000 people will only relieve a small portion of a refugee flow of 4.1 million, but it is an essential political gesture designed to encourage other allies — Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Argentina — and other immigrant countries to do their part. The strategic goal is to relieve the pressure on the three frontline states. Refugee resettlement by the US also acknowledges a fact that the refugees themselves are trying to tell us: even if peace eventually comes to their tormented country, there will be no life for all of them back home.

Once the US stops behaving like a bemused bystander, watching a neighbor trying to put out a fire, it can then put pressure on allies and adversaries to make up the shortfall in funding for refugee programs run by the UNHCR and the World Food Program. One of the drivers of the exodus this summer was a sudden reduction in refugee food aid caused by shortfalls in funding. Even now these agencies remain short of what they need to provide shelter and food to the people flooding out of Syria.

Now that ISIS has brought down a Russian aircraft over Sinai and bombed civilians in Paris, Beirut, and Ankara, the US needs to use its refugee policy to help stabilize its allies in the region. The presumption that it can sit out the refugee crisis makes a hugely unwise bet on the stability of Jordan, where refugees amount to 25 percent of the total population; and Lebanon, where largely Sunni refugees, who have hardly any camps, are already destabilizing the agonizingly fragile multiconfessional order; and Turkey, where the burdens of coping with nearly two million refugees are driving the increasingly authoritarian Erdoğan regime into the arms of Vladimir Putin. [Continue reading…]

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