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Why It Matters That Refugees Aren't Feeling the Bern

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 22/02/2016 Daniel Kushner

Refugee policy is foreign policy. But listening to the Democratic debates, it is easy to get the impression from Bernie Sanders that "foreign policy" means going to war -- or voting against war. Actually, foreign policy often involves removing civilians from the path of war, or resettling civilians whose lives have been devastated by war. It's not about approving wars, but working with allies to react to those devastated by them before entire regions or the world itself is destabilized.
We see this today. It wasn't too long ago that Syria was a country of roughly 22 million people living under more or less stable conditions. In the roughly five years that the Syrian Civil War has been devastating the country, the best estimates are that close to half a million people have been killed, and more than half of the total population have been forced to leave their homes.
By any standard, this is a humanitarian catastrophe. But the enormous number of people who have had to run for their lives have brought with them serious issues for neighboring countries that the whole world has to grapple with. Of the roughly 12 million displaced people, at least 7 million are still within the borders of Syria, but more than 4 million refugees have left the country and gone elsewhere, often to countries which are already facing serious problems.
Lebanon is probably the most vulnerable example. Five years ago, it had a population of barely 4 million people; because of the Syrian Civil War, more than 1 million people have entered. In terms of size of population, that would be the equivalent of if roughly 80 million people came to the United States in the space of five years. Except it's even more significant; the U.S. is a wealthy country. In its best days, Lebanon is significantly less so. Facing this immense influx of population, the Lebanese infrastructure has all but collapsed.
Garbage is the biggest example of this. For months, the Lebanese government has been simply unable to pick up the garbage of their suddenly sky-rocketing population. When it rained in the capital, Beirut, there were literally "rivers of refuse" going through the city.
This is a public health disaster for millions of people, but it also represents a potential destabilization of a never calm country. It was less than three decades ago that Lebanon finished its own civil war, which lasted for most of 15 years, killing 150,000 people. Even before this new crisis, there remained deep tension between the Shiite, Sunnis and Christian populations, who all share this tiny country. Along with the decreased faith in the government, ISIS has emerged as well in the region, most dramatically in their bombing of a Shiite residential area in Beirut, killing dozens and injuring hundreds. So far, it's been months since they have struck, but if daily conflict emerges, we might see the number of refugees in the region rise by even more millions.
Lebanon isn't the only country struggling with its new arrivals. Turkey has taken upwards of 2 million refugees while dealing with its own civil war. Upwards of a million refugees have made it to Europe, often overcoming horrifically dangerous challenges to even arrive, leaving many corpses floating in the water. Even when they've arrived, many European countries have struggled with the influx. Sweden has taken upwards of 150,000 refugees, many of whom are from Syria, but is reaching its limits.
Meanwhile, in the United States, much of the political discourse has been dictated by Donald Trump and others on the right, who have imagined refugees as being all potential terrorists. And there are serious security issues that need to be considered, both in terms of what we conventionally consider as terrorism, but as also became poignant after the events of Cologne. But the larger issue is if the United States can afford to not help friendly nations as they struggle to help the millions of people who are escaping a horrific situation. This is a human rights tragedy, but it's also an opportunity for us to help crucial countries avoid buckling under enormous pressure, and keep the situation from spiraling any further out of control.
If the Republican Party has been reverting to jingoism, the debate in the Democratic Party hasn't been much more encouraging. Bernie Sanders has joined Donald Trump in focusing strictly on the issue of ISIS, and arguing for us to ally with anybody possible just so we can defeat them. ISIS is an important issue, but foreign policy isn't just a matter of war. If we do our part for refugees now, we can keep the next war from starting.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has called for the United States to take in 65,000 refugees a year over the next two years. This won't solve the problem, but it would represent a serious and measurable effort to contain it.
Bernie Sanders called for letting only 10,000 to enter the United States. That is isn't just a humanitarian issue; it's bad foreign policy. When our friends in the international community are asking us for help, it's all but ignoring their pleas. It means letting a desperate situation get even worse, and increasing the chances of an even worse war. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has called for letting in the 65,000 refugees.
I wish I could say that this will solve the problem. The issues the global community and the United States face are so dramatic that no complete solution exists. There is, however, a beginning. We have an obligation to look directly at the problem, and take the first, long stride. For me, this campaign is about one candidate who is looking at the full extent of the problems, and is offering proposals that moves in the right direction towards solving it, while the other either doesn't know or care enough to even try.

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