As Europe struggles with a vast tide of refugees, Oxfam urges the US to do a great deal more to help resettle them.
It took the image of a young boy, dead on a beach in Turkey, to bring into focus for the rest of the world the anguish and suffering of more than four million Syrian refugees. They are among a global flood of forcibly displaced people greater than at any time in recorded history, a deluge of families fleeing persecution, conflict, and war that is only likely to grow, says the UN.
The war in Syria, dragging on mercilessly since 2011, is feeding the surge, pushing the numbers of displaced people to nearly 60 million by the end of 2014.
“We have more refugees now, globally, than we’ve had since World War II,” said Oxfam’s Paul O’Brien Thursday on MSNBC. “The epicenter of that is Syria.”
More than half of Syrian residents have fled their homes, with millions streaming across the borders into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey where their arrival has put enormous pressure on the basic services and infrastructure of those countries. Now, desperate for security and a better life, many families are pressing onward into Europe. Among those families was that of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old boy who drowned, along with his mother and brother, as they tried to leave Turkey in a small boat.
“It’s tragic that we had to see the images of that young boy in order for people to see the urgency of this and start to move on an issue that is not going away,” Oxfam’s Shannon Scribner told CNN .
“I wish it hadn’t taken this long,” said Oxfam policy advisor Alexandra Saieh in a column for Marie Claire. “As an American working for Oxfam in Jordan, every day I speak with people who have fled their homes in Syria in search of things most people take for granted—safety, clean water, food, an education for their children.”
With the refugee crisis growing—and tensions rising as countries struggle with the influx of newcomers-- Oxfam and other aid groups are calling on governments around the world to resettle at least five percent of Syrian refugees by the end of this year. Though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has submitted the names of 16,286 Syrians for resettlement consideration in the US, to date the country has welcomed fewer than 1,500.
Under pressure to work with European countries on the crisis, the Obama administration announced Thursday that it would resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the coming year.
Oxfam maintains that the US can—and should—do a great deal more to help resolve this crisis. Traditionally, the country has resettled half the referrals it has received through UNHCR, and the nation has a long history of generously resettling other refugees fleeing conflict. According to the New York Times, for instance, in 1979 the US took in 110,000 Vietnamese refugees and 207,000 more the following year.
But resettlement alone won’t solve this crisis—only a political solution will, one that will bring regional powers to the table to seek an end to the war in Syria. Coupled with that is the need for an immediate halt on the flow of arms and ammunition to the groups waging this war. While urging the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Syria, Oxfam is also pushing countries that have been lead suppliers—including the US, Russia, Iran, and the Gulf Countries—to agree to a complete stop on arms transfers.
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