Displaced and Misplaced: Growing Humanitarian Need for Syrian Refugees

While the hot topic involving Syrian refugees has seemed to fall out of the latest news cycle, it hasn’t changed the rising numbers of refugees knocking on Jordan’s door. The number of refugees at the border is estimated to be about 20,000 with an estimate of 4,000 more arriving in the remote desert area every month. Jordan’s hesitation stems from the fact that many refugees have fled from areas controlled by the Islamic State group and therefore need to go through strict vetting. Pressure has been felt by Jordan from international aid organizations to hurry the process along and to transport the refugees to the UN run Azraq refugee camp which could accommodate thousands of the refugees. Currently, Jordan is only allowing several dozen refugees to enter each day leaving many Syrians stuck along the Syrian-Jordanian border.

The refugee agency chief in Jordan, Andrew Harper, has stated that he is working with Jordan to provide the necessities to those refugees stuck in the desert and is working with local officials to find a way to speed up the vetting process. The agency is also preparing itself for the predicted increase of 5,000 refugees every month at the border.

U.N. agencies are trying to get pledges from countries for Syria’s humanitarian needs. The U.N. agencies are looking for $7.73 billion for Syria’s needs this year. Malala Yousafzai will be attending a conference in London looking to commit $1.4 billion this year in order to get access to education for refugee children. This conference, “Supporting Syria and the Region” aims to raise funds for the humanitarian crisis in Syria. It is estimated that about 700,000 Syrian children living in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries are out of school and out of reach of educational resources. At this conference, Malala will appear with Muzoon Almellehan, the only young Syrian refugee to address world leaders at the event.

There is an estimated number of 13.5 million people in Syria in need of humanitarian assistance, 4.6 million are refugees, 6.6 million are displaced within Syria and half are children. Since the Syrian civil war began 320,000 people have been killed (12,000 children), and 1.5 million have been wounded or permanently disabled. Health care, education systems and the economy have collapsed. And worst of all, children have suffered the loss of loved ones, have witnessed violence, and have been recruited to serve as child soldiers. There is a lot of talk on raising funds for humanitarian needs for Syrian refugees. According to the World Vision, the greatest needs are:

  • The basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household/hygiene items
  • Reliable supply of clean water, and sanitation facilities
  • Safe environment for children to play and go to school
  • Employment options for adults
  • Winter essentials: warm clothing, shoes, bedding, heaters, and heating fuel

Overall, as can be seen in various articles concerning this issue that the Syrian civil war has caused calamity. It has bred more violence, collapsed infrastructures, displacement and caused the most vulnerable class of persons- children- to experience loss and violence, and to be recruited as child soldiers. It is clear that a resolution is needed, but for now international organizations, various countries and people like Malala Yousafzai are advocating for those without a voice.


Ginny Nunez is a 3L and a Senior Editor for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

Number of Syrian Refugees on Jordan Border Reaches 20,000, ABC News, The Associated Press, Jordan Amman, Jan. 31, 2016 (http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/jordan-census-counts-12-million-syrians-36624336).

Malala Seeks to Raise $1.4 Billion to Educate Syrian Refugees, Business Insider, Estelle Shirbon, Jan. 31, 2016 (http://www.businessinsider.com/r-malala-seeks-to-raise-14-billion-to-educate-syrian-refugees-2016-1).

What You Need to Know: Crisis in Syria, Refugees, and the Impact on Children, World Vision, World Vision Staff, Jan 27, 2016 (http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/syria-war-refugee-crisis).



How A Bill Becomes A Law

“We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic. We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”

-President Obama


On Nov. 19th, 2015 the House passed bipartisan legislation for stricter screening for refugees trying to enter from Syria. Obama has openly expressed his disagreement with the legislation stating, “Apparently, they’re scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States of America as part of our tradition of compassion…. That doesn’t sound very tough to me.” Vice President Biden stated that refugees from Syria have to face “the most rigorous screening.” The bill passed in the house in a vote of 289 to 137 with support from some Democrats.

It takes about two years for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. there are many layers of screening and Syrians may face even more if the bill becomes law. Since 2011 less than 2,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted. The steps listed below are pulled directly from a New York Times article:

  1. Registration with the United Nations
  2. Interview with the United Nations
  3. Refugee status granted by the United Nations
  4. Referral for resettlement in the United States
  5. Interview with the State Department contractors
  6. First background check
  7. Higher-level background check for some
  8. Another background check
  9. First fingerprint screening; photo taken
  10. Second fingerprint screening
  11. Third fingerprint screening
  12. Case reviewed at United States immigration headquarters
  13. Some cases referred for additional review
  14. Extensive, in person interview with Homeland Security officer
  15. Homeland Security approval is required
  16. Screening for contagious diseases
  17. Cultural orientation class
  18. Matched with an American resettlement agency
  19. Multi-Agency security check before leaving for the U.S.
  20. Final security check at an American airport

Coming to the U.S. as a refugee is no easy feat despite the country one hails from, but as a Syrian the wait is long and arduous. A family, of a 33 year old man, his 23 year old wife and their five year old son, fled Syria to Jordan, but anxiety grew as they were unwelcomed in Jordan. After three years of going through the above mentioned steps they were granted refugee status in the United States. Unfortunately, as they were mid-flight, Governor Pence of Indiana announced that he would no longer welcome Syrian refugees in his state and ordered the Indianapolis resettlement organization not to accept any Syrian refugees. This family was forced to be diverted from their long awaited future. Fortunately the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven arranged to resettle the family soon after they landed.

If the bill becomes law the director of the FBI, the secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence has to confirm that each applicant from Syria and Iraq pose no threat. The White House’s response, more specifically that of the President, is a promised veto if it manages to pass in the Senate. According to another New York Times article, two dozen governors have said they would try and impede Syrian refugees from entering their state and a Bloomberg poll shows that more than half of the country agrees with these governors. President Obama has stood against the rising majority, tweeting that he will admit at least 10,000 fleeing Syrians (after passing the highest security checks). Despite the clear stance in the House and in the White House, the fate in the Senate is not as clear. FBI Director Comey has expressed concern that this bill could make it impossible to allow refugees into the U.S.

Ginny Nunez is a 3L and a Senior Editor for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.

Misplaced Fear

The buzz and fear generated by ISIS around the world can be felt here at home amidst political campaigns and foreign policy. On Saturday November 21, 2015, President Obama vowed to keep America’s borders open to the world’s refugees. However, with the most recent terror attacks in Paris, the House passed legislation that calls for restrictions and stricter screening for refugees hailing from Syria. This screening process can take up to two years. The bill passed by a vote of 289 to 137, 50 of which were Democrats. If passed in the Senate, the numbers might override President Obama’s veto. During President Obama’s visit to the Dignity for Children Foundation in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 21, Obama noted America should not be closing its doors to the children and orphans around the world facing persecution, discrimination and ethnic violence, like the kids in the center who fled violence in Myanmar. Obama stated, “the refugees from Myanmar- again, mostly Rohingya, Muslim- those young children up there, they’re deserving of the world’s protection and the world’s support.” He went on to explain that America’s global leadership is expressed in its willingness to help people who have been discriminated against, tortured or subjected to violence. Upon his return he is scheduled to meet with President Francois Hollande to discuss the terror attacks in Paris.

The legislation passed by the House spurs from the fear of allowing members of ISIS into the country under the guise of refugee status, leaving America vulnerable to an attack. Unfortunately potential perpetrators are more likely to be native-born Americans. A survey of Americans who have been charged with helping ISIS concludes that out of the 68 charged, none are Syrian or Syrian-American, and only 3 are refugees. Fordham University Law School’s Center on National Security data shows that four out of five U.S. residents charged are American citizens, and about two thirds are U.S. born. The center found no trend suggesting refugees are more likely than not to be involved in ISIS cases.

The center came out with a series of data points replicated below:

  • 55 of the 68 arrested are U.S. citizens. Of the 55 citizens, 12 were naturalized, the rest American-born.
  • Of the 25 not born in the U.S., seven were born in Europe — all from the states of the former Yugoslavia; another six in Africa –Somalia, Ghana and Sudan; six were born in the Middle East — one each from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and Palestine; five were from Central Asia –Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan; and one was from Cuba.
  • At least one-third of those arrested are converts to Islam.
  • More than half of those charged, 36, allegedly wanted to travel to Syria to fight. Eighteen allegedly aspired to be domestic plotters, and Greenberg said the Justice Department’s most recent investigations appear to be more focused on domestic plotters. The other 14 were a mixture of alleged aspiring recruiters and cyberterrorists.
  • Eight have previous criminal records and many had been prescribed psychotropic drugs.
  • Eight have family ties to others charged, which supports Greenberg’s long-held belief that family radicalization is at least as important as radicalization through exposure to online jihadi propaganda.
  • Most were men, but 10 of the 68 were women. The average age is 26.4 years, with the youngest in their teens and the oldest 44.
  • The 68 come from 20 states, with New York and Minnesota accounting for 21 cases — 12 in New York, nine in Minnesota.

The fear and response to refugees being terrorists is misplaced. Currently the FBI has over 900 open investigations into homegrown extremists. These extremists have either been radicalized by ISIS or by sympathizers already in America. According to Time, the number of homegrown followers is in the thousands immensely surpassing the number of followers that al-Qaeda ever had. The former director of the CIA predicts that the threat from ISIS against America will become a matter of when. The recent attack against Paris is a demonstration of the strength and ability ISIS has, keeping in mind that that attack’s initial planning began less than a year ago. Foreign policy and strategy is vital in combating ISIS’ growing strength and influence, but shutting the doors to those who most need it isn’t the answer.

Ginny Nunez is a 3L and a Senior Editor for the Journal of Law and International Affairs at the Penn State University Dickinson School of Law.

Citations to articles & documents are included in the aforementioned underlined hyperlinks.