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The Syrian Refugee Crisis: Being Smart with our Compassion

Stung by the image of a Turkish rescuer carrying the body of a three-year old Syrian boy, drowned when the boat bearing has family to Europe capsized, Chris Hayes last night denounced US immigration policies that will allow only eight thousand Syrians to immigrate next year.

Hayes drew a stark comparison with Germany, where Chancellor Merkel has promised to accept nearly a million refugees next year. Looking at the relative sizes of our two nations, Hayes suggested a target number of at least 100,000 for immigration to the US. Echoing “Black Lives Matter”, Mr. Hayes went on to insist that every presidential contender should be forced to make a declaration of policy on the issue.

I agree that the plight of the refugees is inexcusable, but would respectfully suggest that Mr. Hayes is looking at the problem too narrowly. The US accepts millions of refugees every year from Latin America. Yes, most of those come into our country illegally, but most come to find work, and many of them will be nationalized.

Latin American refugees are driven to the US by political tyranny and criminality rampant in their native countries. The conditions in Syria are more extreme and intense, but the basic problem is the same: the failure of governments to create security and stability for their people. So if Germany is held up as a paragon of compassion on the international stage, we should ask “How many Latin American refugees does Germany accept each year?” Almost none, it would appear from the foreign population statistics (see figure 3).

Now the high-minded will complain that US regional policy – including support for fascist regimes during the Cold War and the ongoing War on Drugs – makes us culpable at least in part for the instability in Latin America. But no less so is Europe responsible for instability in their back yard. The Tutsi genocide in Rwanda at the hands of the Hutus was not an outgrowth of ancient ethnic hatred. The Hutu-Tutsi divide was created by the French, who handed out identity cards to create an exploitable ethnic divide based upon wealth. Elsewhere in Africa, the colonial occupiers created national boundaries to exacerbate existing ethnic tensions, thereby ensuring that the natives were unlikely to rally against their European overlords. Those ethnic tensions continue do bedevil Africa to this day, and the residue of these policies is also evident in the Middle East.

Finally, we should focus on the wealthy nations of the Middle East themselves. The region is awash in oil money. Where are Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Dubai in the relief effort?

I am aware of at least one program that responds to the humanitarian crisis emanating from Syria. The Shia community in the south of Iraq is allocating religious charity to the support of Iraqi Sunnis displaced by ISIS/Daesh.

Given this context, I believe that Mr. Hayes has no moral case that compels us to take the extreme measure of relocating hundreds of thousands of refugees to America. And considering the logistics, it would appear that the most effective way to support the relief effort is to provide financial support to regional efforts. I would hold this as the litmus test for American involvement, but it is from the region that the request should come. When Europe comes forward with a plan for managing the crisis, that is the moment for us to pony up to support the effort. If we are to be outraged, it should be that our allies allowed the problem to fester until it became a disaster.

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