By Mikaela Tenner
During one of my first days in Israel this summer, we hiked to the top of a hill in Golan Heights, just past Israel’s border with Syria. Only forty miles from Syria’s capital of Damascus, we were only one mile away from the nearest town. After walking around for a few minutes and surveying the view, we started to hear explosions coming from the nearby Syrian town. We found some UN observers on top of the hill, and asked them why there were explosions in the nearest town. They informed us that the explosions had been happening a lot there recently due to a conflict between rebels in that town and the Assad regime. One of the girls I was with asked if that bomb had killed anyone, and the UN observer responded by saying, “Of course it did, it probably killed many people.”
For over four years now, the Syrian Civil War has been raging on. What started as a two-party war between rebels and the Assad regime has now become a far more expansive war, involving four main warring parties. The turmoil in Syria helped give rise to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), which now controls close to 3/4 of the country. Many Syrians are caught between the clashes of their government, ISIS and the rebels. In the course of the first four years of the war, the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights estimates that between 240,381 and 330,381 Syrians were killed in the fighting.
With a country that is no longer functioning, most Syrians desire to leave their war-torn land, but are left with no place to go. Many have fled to the surrounding Arab nations, including 1.1 million in Lebanon, 2.6 million in Jordan, and 400,000 going to other countries, including Iraq and Egypt. However, most of these countries are not particularly wealthy and having refugees only puts more strain on their country. Currently, Syrian refugees make up more than 20 percent of Lebanon’s population, and are putting an enormous tax on the tiny country’s resources. Jordan already has a refugee problem, as half of their population is composed on Palestinian refugees. Therefore the number of Syrian refugees fleeing to Jordan only worsens this problem. The other Arab countries that Syrians have fled to, including Egypt and Iraq, are already war-torn countries themselves and are not the safest of countries for refugees to go.
In the past months, the European Union has started to see a huge influx of Syrian refugees. Most of them have been entering on boats through Greece and Turkey. Although some of these refugees are granted asylum, and allowed to stay in the European Union, they are expected to begin sending thousands who were not granted asylum back to Syria. The European Union is now faced with the problem of figuring out what to do with the refugees, while maintaining the appearance of still being as humanitarian as possible.
One possibility would be for the European Union to work with some of the gulf states to find a solution. The European Union recently criticized Saudi Arabia for refusing to take in any refugees, although Saudi Arabia claims to have taken in 100,000 of them. Many of the wealthy gulf states have righteously faced similar criticism in recent weeks for their refusal to take in refugees. Most of these countries are extraordinarily well off, with Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia all ranking amongst the twelve highest GDPs per capita levels in the world. More than that, these countries are all Muslim dominated, much like the refugees leaving Syria. It seems ridiculous that these countries refuse to help their fellow Arab nation, and instead push the responsibility onto Europe and the poorer Arab states. It would be beneficial for the European Union to work with the Gulf states to strike some type of deal where they will send those refused asylum to these countries. If not, Europe will soon be faced with sending thousands of refugees back to die in Syria.