Over the last month, citizens of the world have watched the growing Syrian refugee crisis unfold on television. Thousands of men, women and children are risking their lives to flee the violence from the Syrian civil war. Many are making the treacherous journey on foot through Turkey, while others attempt to sail across the Mediterranean on makeshift rafts.
According to Mercy Corps, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced since 2011. The majority of these people have fled to Syria’s neighboring countries over the years – Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. As violence continues in the Middle East, more than 350,000 migrants have sought asylum in Germany, France, Italy and the United Kingdom – and it’s not ending there.
Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, only 1,500 refugees fled Syria for the United States, though President Barack Obama has committed to accepting 10,000 more over the next coming year.
Obama’s plan has sparked a debate in Washington. Refugee advocates say the United States is not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis caused by the war, while some congressional Republicans worry that an increase could allow terrorists to enter the United States.
“The rhetoric has been really awful,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. “The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraqis with terrorists.”
Strong opposition met previous efforts to increase the flow of Syrian refugees.
Fourteen U.S. Senate Democrats wrote a letter urging the Obama administration to allow at least 65,000 Syrian refugees to settle in the United States this past May. The following month, Congressman Michael McCaul (R-TX) objected to the administration’s plans to allow nearly 2,000 by the end of 2015.
“While we have a proud history of welcoming refugees, the Syrian conflict is a unique case requiring heightened vigilance and scrutiny,” McCaul, whose Homeland Security Committee has held hearings on the issue, wrote in a letter to Obama.
Although both sides of the debate in Washington present valid arguments, why can’t the United States offer these refugees compassion while exercising caution? After all, the U.S. has a history of meddling in Middle Eastern affairs that complicate the situation faced today. That history goes back almost 100 years.
Now, in an attempt to escape the horrors of war, hundreds of refugees have drowned in the Mediterranean. Small children are washing up on the shores of Turkey and Greece. Refugees face tear gas and water bombs in other parts of Europe where their governments are closing borders.
The U.S. should be a shining example of compassion to the migrants who have lost everything. Republicans raise an excellent point: young, single men of military age should be looked at with caution so that our compassion isn’t taken advantage of by ISIS or other terrorists. The U.S. can do better than just taking 10,000 refugees.
By offering compassion, the United States can be an example to other parts of the world that the Syrian refugee crisis isn’t an issue of proximity, but an issue of humanitarianism.