The Syrian refugee crisis has had effects that go beyond the Middle East and become a global issue that can only be solved through international cooperation among countries. Peace Islands Institute’s Ambassadors Series 2016: “The Perception of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Europe and the United States“ hosted two honorable Ambassadors from the United Nations to focus on the different perspectives on current issues, and share possible solutions to this humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Mehmet Kilic, the Director of Peace Islands Institute for Global Affairs, delivered his welcome remarks by giving an emphasis on the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian Refugee crisis and the perspectives in Europe and the United States. He said that the Syrian crisis has raged for five years; more than 350 thousand people lost their lives, and more than 12 million people were displaced either in Syria, the neighboring countries, or in Europe. The Syrian crisis affected not only the Middle East but also the whole world. Mr. Kilic presented a video prepared by Omaymah Al Harahsheh (PII intern) that reflected the American and European perspectives on the Syrian refugee crisis. In the movie presentation, people from different backgrounds shared their opinions, experiences, and different perspectives on the Syrian refugee crisis and provided their solutions to end the crisis. Some of the interviewees were relatively informed about the Syrian refugee crisis and offered possible solutions whereas some others had no idea about the Syrian refugee crisis.
Video: American & European Perspectives on Syrian Refugee Crisis
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir, Professor and Senior Fellow at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs, provided background information about the Syrian Crisis with social, economic, and political implications since 2011. Dr. Ben-Meir indicated that the world has never seen such an immense crisis since the World War II and said: “Two generations of Syrians have been lost with their dreams, hopes, aspirations, and their bodies are lost. As human beings, it is our collective responsibility to reflect on the Syrian crisis to deal with this crisis and find an agreement to solve it.” Dr. Ben-Meir finalized his remarks with hopes for a solution and gave the floor to Ambassador Mr. Ib Petersen, the Permanent Representative of Denmark to the UN. Before taking up his new position, Ambassador Petersen was the State Secretary for Development Cooperation in Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the United Nations.
Ambassador Ib Petersen, Permanent Representative of Denmark to the United Nations, stated that they were in a very complicated situation with the Syrian refugee crisis in Denmark and Europe. More than 4 million refugees arrived in Europe with most of them traveling onward to northern and western EU countries. According to Petersen, the biggest problem in Europe was that any person coming to Europe could quickly move between different countries in the EU. Most of the refugees preferred countries such as Germany and Sweden, because of their governmental support and social benefits for refugees. Ambassador Petersen also added: “providing humanitarian aid and support are not enough for essential living conditions for Syrian refugees.” In his speech, Ambassador Petersen gave an emphasis on the responsibility of each government to integrate refugees into the society and to provide them equal opportunities to be part of the economic system of the country. He concluded his remarks: “this crisis can only be solved through cooperation and conferences including as many countries as possible.’
Ambassador Ashraf El Nour, the Permanent Observer of the International Organization for Migration to the UN, was the second panelist in the discussion. After working as Senior Recovery Adviser at UNDP’s Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, he returned to the International Organization for Migration where he served in several capacities.
El Nour started his speech with his opening remarks on the Syrian crisis. Ambassador El Nour said that the Syrian crisis lasted for five years and resulted in an immense impact in our lives locally and globally. Ambassador El Nour stated that Europe became an important destination for more than 1 million Syrian refugees, but “the Europeans could not establish and coordinate the flow of Syrian refugees which consequently led to a global migration crisis.” According to Ambassador El Nour, the fragmentation of roots and the disagreements among the European countries were the most critical challenges faced by Europe countries. Amb. El Nour added: “It is not only a crisis of number but also a crisis of solidarity! Many countries and humanitarian relief organizations provided record amounts of aid to Syrians, but the supply route was nearly impossible, and, therefore, the aid fell into the wrong hands – in the hands of human traffickers”.
Ambassador Ashraf El Nour also talked about the 3RP (Regional Refugee & Resilience Plan 2016 – 2017) as a response to the Syrian crisis. The 3RP was implemented by Germany, Kuwait, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United Nations, which brought together more than 60 countries and the international organizations including private sector and the civil society. The conference aimed to agree on a comprehensive new approach on how to respond to this protracted crisis. According to Amb. El Nour, the key strategies to overcome the current crisis were international solidarity-sharing and responsibility-sharing, regional protection framework, promoting educational opportunities for children and youth, investing in livelihoods and providing employment opportunities to equip better refugees and mobilizing community members to provide for themselves and their families. He concluded his remarks as: “The Syrian Refugee Crisis is a man-made crisis, and we have the responsibility to deal with it”.
At the end of panel discussion, PII’s intern Omaymah Al Harahsheh, an international student from Jordan studying Economics and Human Rights at the Columbia University, presented her research findings and the survey on the perception of the Syrian Refugee Crisis in Europe and the United States. The results of the survey revealed that almost two-thirds of the citizens were relatively good informed about the Syrian refugee crisis through the American media or the social media outlets. According to the survey, 80 % of the people had a positive view toward Syrian refugees and suggested that the US and the EU should host Syrian refugees and offer them all humanitarian aid needed. 30 % of the people stated that the primary challenge of hosting Syrian refugees were economic burdens to provide educational, health and other social services. They survey provided information about security threats (20%) and integration in the society (20%). Protecting refugees from human trafficking and all other exploitation is with 73% the best solution to overcome this crisis as well as welcome those who are seeking asylum (65%) and promoting integration and social inclusion of them in the host countries (61%).