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Syria's refugee crisis - a double edged sword

Offering asylum to Syria's refugees might have been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe

Rohan Joshi 

Rohan Joshi

The gut-wrenching image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who, along with his mother and brother tragically drowned while fleeing to the Greek island of Kos, has shocked the world and left many with their conviction in humanity shaken. Aylan was one of the millions of Syrians who fled their country, which is in the midst of a civil war that shows no signs of abating.

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest, Serbia on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station, where hundreds of migrants and

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station. Photo - AP/PTI

Since the beginning of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011, 310,000 civilians have been killed (accounting for approximately 1.3 percent of Syria’s population). As a result of the conflict, the expanding security vacuum has allowed miscellaneous rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusra Front, to assert control in the northwest and southwest of the country.

The group calling itself the in Iraq and (ISIS) now controls vast swathes of territory in the hinterland and areas bordering Iraq and Jordan, while Kurdish forces control a stretch of territory in the north, east of the Euphrates River.

Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began four years ago. Wealthy Syrians and those with means have already moved to safer pastures. Others have poured into neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and even Iraq. Turkey now runs the most number of camps for Syrian (22), and accommodates nearly 2 million Syrian (as of August 2015).

Among Syria’s neighbors, Turkey and Jordan, with strong central governments, are best placed to deal with the refugee crisis. Lebanon’s weak government, however, is ill-equipped to deal with the nearly 1.2 million Syrians who have sought refuge in their country. Indeed, these Syrian now form a quarter of Lebanon’s total population.

With there being no hope for a cessation of hostilities among the warring parties, the more desperate in have attempted to flee to safety to Kos by undertaking a perilous journey via the Mediterranean Sea. Over 300,000 Syrians have attempted to escape the horrors of the civil war through this route. As of May 2015, an estimated 1,800 Syrian asylum-seekers have drowned attempting the journey across the Mediterranean.

The impact of the influx of large numbers of refugees from into could have mid- to long-term consequences that ought to be carefully analyzed. In a 1997 assessment of the impact of refugees on host countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified that a large influx of refugees could (a) cause inflationary pressures and depress wages, (b) strain local administrations by diverting limited resources to keeping refugees alive, alleviating their suffering and ensuring their safety, and (c) impact the security and safety of society, through increased incidence of crime or other social problems.

Per data, the number of Syrian asylum seekers in has skyrocketed from about 91,000 in January 2014 to 350,000 in July 2015. And even though there has been a concerted effort to pump more money to allow host countries to cope with the crisis, current funding levels remain woefully inadequate. Per data for August 2015, current funding levels address only 37 percent of the projected requirement.

itself is in the midst of an economic crisis. Budget deficits across Europe remain high and unemployment rates continue to hover around the 10 percent mark. For Greece, the influx of close to 50,000 Syrian refugees will further strain it politically and economically. The announcement that Germany and Austria will accept refugees from Syria will add to prevailing economic pressures in the Eurozone.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the large and increasing influx of Syrian refugees into Europe now puts the U.S. and its European allies in an unenviable position in Syria. Neither nor Iran, which back the regime, have accepted any refugees from Syria and thus will happily play the long game until concessions from the U.S. are forthcoming.

Worse, the U.S.’s own allies – and the – on whose account the U.S. launched an intervention into Syria in the first place, have steadfastly refused to accept any refugees. Lest we forget, the Saudis threw a fit in 2014 over America’s response (or lack thereof) to the Syrian crisis. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan went so far as to warn of a “major shift” and indicated that he planned to “limit interaction with the U.S.”

One year into the U.S.-led Syrian intervention, Saudi Arabia, the and Qatar, all three of whom currently preside over the UN Council, have been conspicuous in their absence among nations accepting refugees from Syria. An official in the offered the incredulous explanation that the UAE does not accept Syrian refugees because “it is in the long term interests of the refugees to be close to their homes, so that it will be easier for them to return” after the war.

We are unfortunately nowhere near the end of the crisis in Syria. With so many actors and divergent interests at play, it is not even remotely clear what an endgame in Syria might look like or whether any one actor has the ability to bring about a cessation of hostilities in that country. Ultimately, offering asylum to Syria’s refugees might have perhaps been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe.


Rohan Joshi is a Fellow at the Takshashila Institution, focusing on Indian foreign policy and strategic affairs. He is a regular contributor to Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review and The Diplomat.

He writes about India's engagement with the world on his blog, Bharat Kshetra, a part of Business Standard's platform, Punditry.

He tweets as @filter_c

First Published: Tue, September 08 2015. 08:31 IST
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Syria's refugee crisis - a double edged sword

Offering asylum to Syria's refugees might have been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe

With no signs of the war in Syria coming to an end, the Syrian refugee crisis may not end any time soon. Offering asylum to Syria's refugees might have been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe.

The gut-wrenching image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who, along with his mother and brother tragically drowned while fleeing to the Greek island of Kos, has shocked the world and left many with their conviction in humanity shaken. Aylan was one of the millions of Syrians who fled their country, which is in the midst of a civil war that shows no signs of abating.

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest, Serbia on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station, where hundreds of migrants and

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station. Photo - AP/PTI

Since the beginning of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011, 310,000 civilians have been killed (accounting for approximately 1.3 percent of Syria’s population). As a result of the conflict, the expanding security vacuum has allowed miscellaneous rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusra Front, to assert control in the northwest and southwest of the country.

The group calling itself the in Iraq and (ISIS) now controls vast swathes of territory in the hinterland and areas bordering Iraq and Jordan, while Kurdish forces control a stretch of territory in the north, east of the Euphrates River.

Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began four years ago. Wealthy Syrians and those with means have already moved to safer pastures. Others have poured into neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and even Iraq. Turkey now runs the most number of camps for Syrian (22), and accommodates nearly 2 million Syrian (as of August 2015).

Among Syria’s neighbors, Turkey and Jordan, with strong central governments, are best placed to deal with the refugee crisis. Lebanon’s weak government, however, is ill-equipped to deal with the nearly 1.2 million Syrians who have sought refuge in their country. Indeed, these Syrian now form a quarter of Lebanon’s total population.

With there being no hope for a cessation of hostilities among the warring parties, the more desperate in have attempted to flee to safety to Kos by undertaking a perilous journey via the Mediterranean Sea. Over 300,000 Syrians have attempted to escape the horrors of the civil war through this route. As of May 2015, an estimated 1,800 Syrian asylum-seekers have drowned attempting the journey across the Mediterranean.

The impact of the influx of large numbers of refugees from into could have mid- to long-term consequences that ought to be carefully analyzed. In a 1997 assessment of the impact of refugees on host countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified that a large influx of refugees could (a) cause inflationary pressures and depress wages, (b) strain local administrations by diverting limited resources to keeping refugees alive, alleviating their suffering and ensuring their safety, and (c) impact the security and safety of society, through increased incidence of crime or other social problems.

Per data, the number of Syrian asylum seekers in has skyrocketed from about 91,000 in January 2014 to 350,000 in July 2015. And even though there has been a concerted effort to pump more money to allow host countries to cope with the crisis, current funding levels remain woefully inadequate. Per data for August 2015, current funding levels address only 37 percent of the projected requirement.

itself is in the midst of an economic crisis. Budget deficits across Europe remain high and unemployment rates continue to hover around the 10 percent mark. For Greece, the influx of close to 50,000 Syrian refugees will further strain it politically and economically. The announcement that Germany and Austria will accept refugees from Syria will add to prevailing economic pressures in the Eurozone.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the large and increasing influx of Syrian refugees into Europe now puts the U.S. and its European allies in an unenviable position in Syria. Neither nor Iran, which back the regime, have accepted any refugees from Syria and thus will happily play the long game until concessions from the U.S. are forthcoming.

Worse, the U.S.’s own allies – and the – on whose account the U.S. launched an intervention into Syria in the first place, have steadfastly refused to accept any refugees. Lest we forget, the Saudis threw a fit in 2014 over America’s response (or lack thereof) to the Syrian crisis. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan went so far as to warn of a “major shift” and indicated that he planned to “limit interaction with the U.S.”

One year into the U.S.-led Syrian intervention, Saudi Arabia, the and Qatar, all three of whom currently preside over the UN Council, have been conspicuous in their absence among nations accepting refugees from Syria. An official in the offered the incredulous explanation that the UAE does not accept Syrian refugees because “it is in the long term interests of the refugees to be close to their homes, so that it will be easier for them to return” after the war.

We are unfortunately nowhere near the end of the crisis in Syria. With so many actors and divergent interests at play, it is not even remotely clear what an endgame in Syria might look like or whether any one actor has the ability to bring about a cessation of hostilities in that country. Ultimately, offering asylum to Syria’s refugees might have perhaps been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe.


Rohan Joshi is a Fellow at the Takshashila Institution, focusing on Indian foreign policy and strategic affairs. He is a regular contributor to Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review and The Diplomat.

He writes about India's engagement with the world on his blog, Bharat Kshetra, a part of Business Standard's platform, Punditry.

He tweets as @filter_c

image
Business Standard
177 22

Syria's refugee crisis - a double edged sword

Offering asylum to Syria's refugees might have been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe

The gut-wrenching image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who, along with his mother and brother tragically drowned while fleeing to the Greek island of Kos, has shocked the world and left many with their conviction in humanity shaken. Aylan was one of the millions of Syrians who fled their country, which is in the midst of a civil war that shows no signs of abating.

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest, Serbia on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station, where hundreds of migrants and

A Syrian man carrying a child (left) scuffles with a Hungarian nationalist in front of the Keleti train station in Budapest on Friday (September 4, 2015). Minor skirmishes broke out at the Keleti train station. Photo - AP/PTI

Since the beginning of the uprising against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in March 2011, 310,000 civilians have been killed (accounting for approximately 1.3 percent of Syria’s population). As a result of the conflict, the expanding security vacuum has allowed miscellaneous rebel groups, including the Free Syrian Army and al-Nusra Front, to assert control in the northwest and southwest of the country.

The group calling itself the in Iraq and (ISIS) now controls vast swathes of territory in the hinterland and areas bordering Iraq and Jordan, while Kurdish forces control a stretch of territory in the north, east of the Euphrates River.

Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the conflict began four years ago. Wealthy Syrians and those with means have already moved to safer pastures. Others have poured into neighboring countries – Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and even Iraq. Turkey now runs the most number of camps for Syrian (22), and accommodates nearly 2 million Syrian (as of August 2015).

Among Syria’s neighbors, Turkey and Jordan, with strong central governments, are best placed to deal with the refugee crisis. Lebanon’s weak government, however, is ill-equipped to deal with the nearly 1.2 million Syrians who have sought refuge in their country. Indeed, these Syrian now form a quarter of Lebanon’s total population.

With there being no hope for a cessation of hostilities among the warring parties, the more desperate in have attempted to flee to safety to Kos by undertaking a perilous journey via the Mediterranean Sea. Over 300,000 Syrians have attempted to escape the horrors of the civil war through this route. As of May 2015, an estimated 1,800 Syrian asylum-seekers have drowned attempting the journey across the Mediterranean.

The impact of the influx of large numbers of refugees from into could have mid- to long-term consequences that ought to be carefully analyzed. In a 1997 assessment of the impact of refugees on host countries, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) identified that a large influx of refugees could (a) cause inflationary pressures and depress wages, (b) strain local administrations by diverting limited resources to keeping refugees alive, alleviating their suffering and ensuring their safety, and (c) impact the security and safety of society, through increased incidence of crime or other social problems.

Per data, the number of Syrian asylum seekers in has skyrocketed from about 91,000 in January 2014 to 350,000 in July 2015. And even though there has been a concerted effort to pump more money to allow host countries to cope with the crisis, current funding levels remain woefully inadequate. Per data for August 2015, current funding levels address only 37 percent of the projected requirement.

itself is in the midst of an economic crisis. Budget deficits across Europe remain high and unemployment rates continue to hover around the 10 percent mark. For Greece, the influx of close to 50,000 Syrian refugees will further strain it politically and economically. The announcement that Germany and Austria will accept refugees from Syria will add to prevailing economic pressures in the Eurozone.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the large and increasing influx of Syrian refugees into Europe now puts the U.S. and its European allies in an unenviable position in Syria. Neither nor Iran, which back the regime, have accepted any refugees from Syria and thus will happily play the long game until concessions from the U.S. are forthcoming.

Worse, the U.S.’s own allies – and the – on whose account the U.S. launched an intervention into Syria in the first place, have steadfastly refused to accept any refugees. Lest we forget, the Saudis threw a fit in 2014 over America’s response (or lack thereof) to the Syrian crisis. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan went so far as to warn of a “major shift” and indicated that he planned to “limit interaction with the U.S.”

One year into the U.S.-led Syrian intervention, Saudi Arabia, the and Qatar, all three of whom currently preside over the UN Council, have been conspicuous in their absence among nations accepting refugees from Syria. An official in the offered the incredulous explanation that the UAE does not accept Syrian refugees because “it is in the long term interests of the refugees to be close to their homes, so that it will be easier for them to return” after the war.

We are unfortunately nowhere near the end of the crisis in Syria. With so many actors and divergent interests at play, it is not even remotely clear what an endgame in Syria might look like or whether any one actor has the ability to bring about a cessation of hostilities in that country. Ultimately, offering asylum to Syria’s refugees might have perhaps been the most humane thing to do, but it could turn out to be a double-edged sword for Europe.


Rohan Joshi is a Fellow at the Takshashila Institution, focusing on Indian foreign policy and strategic affairs. He is a regular contributor to Pragati - The Indian National Interest Review and The Diplomat.

He writes about India's engagement with the world on his blog, Bharat Kshetra, a part of Business Standard's platform, Punditry.

He tweets as @filter_c

image
Business Standard
177 22