Secretary of State John Kerry dedicated less than a minute to the Syrian refugee crisis in his hourlong speech at the IU Auditorium Thursday morning. He said terrorists in the region must be defeated in order to end the plight of refugees.
Refugee advocates disagree.
Kerry announced in late September that the U.S. will increase its refugee cap to 85,000 by 2016 and 100,000 by 2017.
This year’s cap allows for 70,000 refugees.
The secretary of state described the international influence of the Syrian Civil War as “heart-wrenching.”
He added that the refugee crisis cannot be resolved until terrorist groups in the region are defeated.
“The reality is that there will be no end to the refugee crisis until there is an end to the conflict itself,” Kerry said.
Elizabeth Dunn spent 16 months in a refugee camp in the Republic of Georgia.
Dunn, an associate professor in the School of Global and International Studies, said raising the cap to the level that Kerry proposed will not be enough.
She would like to see the U.S. accept 10 times Kerry’s proposed number.
“We can’t wait for the Syrian war to end,” Dunn said. “There’s no home for them to go back to, and there won’t be for a long time.”
After the Syrian Civil War is over, it will take decades to reconstruct the country, Dunn said.
She called on Kerry to put pressure on the State Department to accept migrants from areas affected by war more quickly.
“It’s our moral obligation,” Dunn said. “But it’s also a pragmatic solution.”
Hadi Yousef, a senior in biology, has two cousins and an uncle who fled Syria by boat and are now living in Germany.
Yousef visited Syria every summer until his junior year of high school, when the crisis made it too dangerous to make the journey.
He attended Kerry’s speech and agreed with the secretary that ending the war is a simple solution to end the Syrian refugee crisis.
“It’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when and how long it will take,” Yousef said.
Yousef said most Syrians would welcome well-intentioned aid regardless of the source.
“They don’t care who does it as long as it’s someone who frees them from ISIS and their own government,” Yousef said.
Yousef, who was born and grew up in the U.S., doesn’t see why the U.S. shouldn’t accept more refugees.
Many are young people with entire professional lives ahead of them, he said.
“I can definitely see them being productive members of society,” Yousef said.
Carleen Miller, executive director of Exodus Refugee, said in an email the resettlement organization’s current plans allow for the relocation of 890 Syrians.
Catholic Charities is working to resettle as many as 600 in Indianapolis, she added.
Like Dunn, Miller said she thinks the refugee cap is far too low.
“We believe that the U.S. should commit to bring an additional 100,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. for resettlement,” Miller said.
Miller said national resettlement organizations agreed that a cap of 100,000 Syrians would be “a good place to start.”
The number is reasonable, Miller said — she pointed to the fact that during the Vietnam War, the U.S. resettled 200,000 refugees per year.
Dunn also said financial contributions are not enough given that the number of displaced people in the world has tripled since 2008.
U.S. allies in Europe will soon expect the government to contribute more, she said, in the form of aid and increased caps for refugees.
The U.S. is the largest donor of aid to Syria, something Kerry mentioned in his speech Thursday.
In late September, the White House announced an additional $419 million in humanitarian contributions, bringing the total aid donated by the U.S. up to $4.5 billion.
The State Department is under pressure to avoid allowing radical Islam to seep into the country through refugee populations.
Dunn recognized that there is some risk associated with opening U.S. doors wider to an influx of migrants.
But the risk might be worth the reward, she said, especially given that refugees end up being positive contributors to the economy, even though they depend on government services initially.
And though some might be concerned about conflicting cultures, Dunn said she isn’t worried.
“Will there be a culture clash in the beginning? Sure,” Dunn said. “Will these people assimilate and become garden-variety Americans? All our historical evidence says that’s pretty likely.”
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