CHANTAL THOMAS: I am Chantal Thomas. I'm a professor of law here at Cornell Law School, and I'm also the director of the Clark Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa. Welcome. More than 40 years after the start of the Syrian conflict, the people displaced by that conflict now number in the millions. More than 4 million refugees and asylum seekers outside Syria, mostly in the adjacent countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, and an estimated 10 million displaced persons inside Syria.
This population of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons adds to an already massive level of displacement in the Middle East, stemming from conflict in the region throughout the modern era. As a result, a majority of the world's refugees today originate from the Middle East. And that global population of refugees is now at its highest point since the Second World War. More than 60 million people as of 2016.
This event seeks to highlight and explore challenges relating to long term global crises and displacement, focusing on Syria and the Middle East. We have an extremely distinguished panel of speakers here today. And thanks so much to them for sharing their expertise. We're very, very honored to welcome our keynote speaker, Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, who until 2014 served as the United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria, following many other special missions undertaken on behalf of the United Nations to Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, South Africa, and many other destinations.
He also serves as part of the Council of the Elders, a group of world leaders working for global peace, created at the initiative of Nelson Mandela in 1997. Prior to his service with the UN, Ambassador Brahimi served as the minister of foreign affairs for his native country of Algeria. The honorable ambassador is also the inaugural fellow in the International Practition and Residence Program at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies here at Cornell. We've been very fortunate to have him here over the past few weeks. Ambassador Brahimi will begin our roundtable by discussing the relationship between conflict and displacement.
We will then hear from our two distinguished panelists, Professor Alexander Aleinikoff, currently a visiting professor of law at Columbia Law School, served until 2015 as the Deputy United Nations High commission for Refugees. And he's also a former dean of Georgetown Law School and former general counsel to the US immigration and Naturalization Service. Professor Aleinikoff will address challenges in law and policy relating to refugee protection.
Our final panelist will be Dr. Lisel Hintz, a post-doctoral fellow here at the Einaudi Center. Dr. Hintz holds a PhD in political science from George Washington University, and currently is at work on a book manuscript analyzing national identity contestation and its relationship to foreign policy. A specialist on Turkey, Dr. Hintz will address the qualitative political challenges faced by countries neighboring the Syrian conflict.
We also do hope to have ample time for discussion. And I'd also like to take this opportunity briefly to announce the release of Cornell University's own report. I have a few advanced copies here, in case anyone is interested, entitled Beyond Survival, Setting Priorities in Livelihood Research And Education for Refugees in the Middle East. The report focuses on legal and economic barriers to work, health, and education for refugees in long term conflict situations.
Before we begin, just a few additional things. This is a Berger Current Events program supported by the Berger Center for International Legal Studies, directed by Professor Muna Ndulu. Thanks to Professor Ndulu for making this event possible. This event is also called organized by the Einaudi Center, which is directed by Professor Hirokazu Miyazaki. Thanks also to Professor Miyazaki, and thanks so much to Heike Michelsen, director of programming at Einaudi, for supporting this event. Thanks to Don Peacock and Justin Gravius here at the law school for their support as well. And thanks to all of you, the audience, for attending today. Ambassador?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: Thank you very much indeed, Chantal, inviting me to be a member of this panel. But you know you called me here as a keynote speaker. I deserve that only because of my age. Because in the presence of Professor Aleinikoff, who has been working day in day out for five years on refugee issues. I think he would have been much better at introducing the subject. And I would have been happy to maybe make a couple of comments about his presentation.
But then the powers that be have decided, so you will have to bear with me and be indulgent for all sorts of things, starting with my English, and also for the fact that I am not an expert, by any stretch of the imagination on issues relating to refugees, IDPs, and even less on asylum seekers. But I have dealt with conflict for a long time, unfortunately. And of course, conflict these days has always been, is very, very close to refugees, internally displaced people, and asylum seekers. Conflict causes a crisis of refugees and internally displaced people, and then conflict itself is complicated because of that crisis.
I feel I have to say a couple of words about what happened this morning in Brussels. It has nothing to do with refugees, but you can see it will be linked to refugees in everything you read and everything you watch on television. One is extremely sad to see so many innocent people killed and an entire city paralyzed, closed down because of the acts of three, four, five, 10, 20 people. But I think we have to accept that this is definitely linked to events in our region, but our region is not responsible for this act.
And I was telling students this morning that we have got to really look to ourselves and see how young people who have grown in our societies grow and become terrorists in the manner and do acts like the ones we have witnessed this morning. Every society has to look inside itself and see how it has produced this kind of people.
During the '90s, when we had in Algeria our own emergency and civil war, I used to tell my friends and colleagues that we really would condemn of course what they have done. They have destroyed our economy. They are killing people. They are killing children. They are destroying villages. That is condemnable without any reservation. But still, we have got to stop and see where did they come from? They have come from our midst. Some of these young people, I used to tell my friends there, had been to school with my children. So perhaps I have to ask myself what I did wrong and what we as a society did wrong to produce these people who can do these outrageous things.
So I think this has nothing to do with the Syrian refugees, who are now, I think, in large numbers in Europe. The Europeans are discussing how to accommodate these uninvited visitors, but I'm afraid what has happened this morning, just like what happened in Paris a couple of months ago, will not make Europeans more hospitable to the Syrian refugees, even if, once again, the Syrian refugees have nothing to do with these developments.
So again, forgive me if I repeat again my apologies that I am not going to be able to give you any theoretical or conceptual generalizations. After all, Chantal has just told you I'm just the practitioner here. And speaking as a practitioner, I will just describe perhaps for you a few scenes that I have witnessed in the Middle East and elsewhere. The
I hope that this will illustrate beforehand, as it were, what the professor will tell you in a moment. A refugee and IDP is a person who feels that he or she has no choice but to leave his or her usual place of residence. This is not something that they have planned and wanted to do. This is something that comes all of a sudden. "I have no choice but to leave." In some rare cases, the person wishing to leave does find time to prepare their exit.
This is the case of the person or family who have the material means, the connections-- I think, that's even more important-- and the time to organize departure. In most cases, however, there will be no time and no means for the person forced to leave to prepare the departure. Nor will the destination be known with any precision. The main objective, the urgency, perhaps the necessity, is to leave and leave fast. Where to go is of secondary importance.
In some cases it may be one single person, a couple, a small family. These single cases may in the end add up to sizable numbers. These departing persons are from the rich or upper middle class part of the society. They are-- I'm not sure whether they should be called refugees, even if when they get to the country of destination they register with UNHCR as refugees. I would call them exiles. Again, in Algeria in the '90s, we lost something like 50,000 to 60,000 of these kind people, generally highly educated, who run away for their lives.
Since then, peace has returned to our country and a few have returned home. Most have not. And of those probably a majority will not come back. They will come back to Algeria as visitors because they have settled down. They have settled down here. They have settled down in Canada. They have settled down in France and Britain, in lots of places in countries in the Middle East. They have found jobs, schools for their children, and at the beginning, the most important thing was peace.
Some are doing the jobs they were trained for. Others accept to be taxi drivers, servers in bars and restaurants. A large number just moves from one small job to the other. Doctors accept-- and we know some-- to work as nurses. University teachers accept to work as primary school teachers, et cetera. Peace is largely restored in the country, but in addition to the fact that they are settled down, there is also the continuing feeling of the trauma of the violence they have seen and the dangers they and their families were exposed to.
In this context, it will be interesting to mention the situation of Libyans in Tunisia. The Tunisians were extremely happy to receive progressively what is now about one million Libyans out of the six million inhabitants of Libya. One million are in Tunisia, most of them rather well-to-do. Most of them settled down in the capital Tunis and its large and affluent suburbs.
They rent apartments and villas. They stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, give jobs to Tunisians as assistants, secretaries, drivers, nannies, maids. Their children go to private schools. And some of these schools have been actually created for the Libyans. But it is now almost five years since this begins. And they had come for a few weeks, for a few months, certainly not for five years.
Their funds are drying up. They find it more and more difficult to pay the rent. It's no more possible to afford a driver, or a nanny, or a housemaid. When they need medical help, they do not go to private clinics anymore. They go to the government hospital. And their kids are moving to government very crowded schools. So for the Tunisian authorities and for the Tunisian society, what started as an opportunity has become a serious burden.
Jordan and Egypt benefited from the same opportunity and later faced the same problems as Tunisia. The Jordanians with the Iraqis, who were going away after the fall of Saddam, and the Egyptians with Syrians, who have come-- I think there are about 300,000 of them now in Egypt. And many of these people, again, came for a few weeks, for a few months. They had enough funds for that period to rent a small apartment and wait for things to improve and things haven't improved.
And like in Tunisia, they are now sending their kids to government schools, asking for medical care from the public sector, and so on, and are becoming a burden and no more an opportunity for the Egyptian economy. So these are some images that will illustrate some aspects of what a refugee is, what the refugee crisis does to refugees, what it does to the community they live. The community they live is poorer because of their departure. But we will also speak a little bit about what they do to the country where they have settled.
So the kind of refugees and IDPs we are more familiar with, those we see far too often on our TV screens walking in their thousands on the roads, through the fields and forests, and even lately on all kinds of unsafe embarkations in the sea, they keep moving, with or without the bundles of possessions they have been able to salvage before they left, with or without children dragged along or held in the arms of their father or mother.
They are a humanity of people who have taken individual decisions to leave, but will soon form a large group, moving together in the same direction, if not always to the same destinations. Some will seek in your place of residence inside the country. We will know them as IDPs. Others have cross the border into foreign lands, and we will call them refugees.
I very much doubt that many of those people will think of themselves as refugees or IDPs when they take off from their home village or town. They are running away from events they did not expect, an emergency, a situation which, to their mind, by definition, shall not last very long. It is a provisional situation. It may last a few days, a few weeks, a few months perhaps. Surely not much more. And then it will be possible to return home.
That departure will affect, first of all, the place left behind, as I just said. A teacher will leave his pupils, a doctor his hospital or surgery, a bread-earner his family, if for some reason he goes away alone. The family, therefore the village, the city left behind will miss the departing individuals in all sorts of ways. Of cause, the village or the city may have been largely destroyed and a sizable part of the community will be on the road themselves, together or separately in different directions.
Remember the religious minority is in northern Iraq, the Yazidis in particular, but also other smaller communities not much talked about, like the Shabak, the Mandaeans, the Sabians, and in some cases also the Christians, all running away from the brutal repression of ISIS.
I understand that some of these minorities, I think the Mandaeans, need to be close to a river to practice their religion. Their religion reads that they live near a river. Some of those, as a matter of fact, think that they can practice their religion only close to their river. So if they leave their area of residence, their religion is dead. They cannot practice their religion. So just see how Iraq is depriving itself of such cultural richness, and how we in the region have become the poorer, and perhaps of the entire world is becoming the poorer because of these developments.
Of course, the difference between cause and consequence is somewhat blurred here. The teacher has perhaps left because his pupils are themselves already gone, or the school has been destroyed, as it has happened far too often in Syria. Or it has been taken over by one of the militias as their headquarters. The doctor also may be leaving because the hospital has been destroyed. Or-- and this also has happened very, very often-- because the feared security agencies are now controlling the hospital to make sure that no one they call terrorist receives treatment. In the case of sectarian conflict, the weaker group may be forced to leave by the stronger. In the worst period of the violence in Iraq-- [COUGHING]
During US occupation, there were two million refugees who left the country, mainly to Jordan, and 2 million IDPs who settled not very far from Baghdad. They were all from the big towns and cities, and they were overwhelmingly members of the minority Sunni communities. An Iraqi judge I met here at Cornell a few years ago told me that the separation wall built inside Baghdad to isolate the sector said to be a hotbed for terrorists actually separated his own house from the house of his brother. He used to walk a couple of minutes to his brother's place. Now he needs to drive 20 minutes to go around that wall to reach the house of his brother just on the other side of the wall.
The second place to be affected is the place of destination. Rather than a destination, of course they haven't chosen. They haven't chosen it. They just got there because that is where their feet took them. The departing person will rarely choose the place where he or she ends up. That choice depends on others-- friends or relatives one may have away from home, either inside the country or outside of the country, local authorities in one's own country, or representatives of guerrilla movements, who will also direct you where they think you should go and what you should do.
And also helpful individuals and organizations, chief among them, of course, UNHCR, other UN agencies, IOM, International Organization for Migration, local and international NGOs, volunteers, Red Cross, Red Crescent, et cetera. Remember, in this case, this help provided by all these organizations and individuals. I think we have seen one of the most striking really impressive and beautiful images in Munich last summer, when those thousands and thousands of refugees and migrants from Syria and elsewhere descended on the city, and in about 24 hours, the security agencies, the Red Cross, the NGOs, and volunteers worked in unison to register and settle some 20,000 individuals. But of course such efficiency is the exception, not the rule.
Whether they remain at home, as IDPs, or move outside as refugees, the presence of these displaced persons will affect the communities among whom or near whom they settle. In our part of the world, the proverbial hospitality is a fiction. It is reality. I heard of a modest family in Damascus who housed for two or three weeks 40 people in their two or three bedrooms flat. Those would be relatives, or friends, or simply, friends of friends of friends, who knocked on your door, and you simply couldn't turn them away. But the heavy burden imposed by that sense of hospitality cannot last forever. The guests will have to go.
On the other hand, people may be generous, but nature is not generous in our part of the world. In the hope of preventing the flow of refugees from reaching the capital Amman and other cities, the Jordanian government, together with UNHCR, prepared a camp in the desert, in the middle of nowhere, not too far from the Syrian border, hoping that the people who come out will be about 30,000. I think that Camp Zaatari is now about 80,000. And of course there are a few 100,000 more who are elsewhere.
Anyway, they have set up this camp. The place is called Zaatari, and I went there in 2012. The place was surrounded with barbed wire, and the Jordanian authorities had placed big machine guns mounted on jeeps on all four sides of the camp. We were told that poor villages a few kilometers from the camp were already protesting that wells being dug for the camp would take away from them much of the meager water resources the region has to offer. Besides, they themselves were as poor as the refugees from Syria. Would the international community dig wells for them, give them access to medical facilities similar to those given to the refugees? And could they also benefit from similar food distributions?
During my visit, I met some of the refugees. Their stories were quite the same. "A house was destroyed by a direct hit during an air raid next to my house. So we left immediately." Or, "my brother was arrested. I was certain that my turn would come, so I left." Or, "we were threatened with brutal reprisals if armed groups were seen anywhere near our village." Or, "our neighborhood was largely destroyed by the government." Or, "fighting was taking place all around us for days. I wanted to save my family."
These are the stories that refugees will tell you, I think all over the world. That is why we have seen in the case of conflict. The questions asked of me were also the same. "Why aren't we allowed to go out of the camp? When do you think we will be able to go back home?" This is the most important question to which I had no answer. When we left the camp, I'm told children threw stones at our well protected car. My UN colleagues later denied that anything like that had happened, but they did not deny that there was profound distrust, dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and frustration amongst the refugees.
Later, there were stories about some individuals coming from the region, offering money for very young girls to be married to much older men. I also visited a refugee camp in Turkey, much smaller, much better equipped-- running water, electricity, television, a school and play area for the kids, a small medical unit. Some call this type of camps the "five-star refugee camps." Here too I spoke to some of the refugees.
One of them immediately started speaking about Algeria. He mentioned half a dozen cities or more he had visited. Had he been a teacher there, I asked? No, he said. But he did not care to explain what took him to Algeria. I guess he must have been exporting and selling Syrian goods, like the high quality textile Damascus is famous for.
What I retained from my discussion with the refugees in Jordan and Turkey is that these people were until recently like me. They probably wore a tie to their job. they had a car. They had a house. They had a life, and they had a future. They thought they had a future. And all of a sudden, all that-- all that has gone. On the way out of the camp in Turkey, a young man in his early 20s approached me. "May I ask you a question," he said? "Please do," I replied. "We are called refugees here. Are we still human?"
I didn't know what to say, but I felt thoroughly embarrassed, shame. I never went back to a refugee camp, and I don't want to go back to a refugee camp anywhere in the world. Turkish authorities say they have now two 20,400,600 refugees in their country. I'm surprised there are still that many after 1 million or more have gone to Europe. True, all those who went to Europe from Turkey were not Syrians, but for Turkey, those refugees are a huge burden, and that is understandable.
Already in 2013, they were telling me that they had spent directly on the refugee camps about $3 billion. But many in Turkey, as elsewhere when refugees come around, benefit from the presence of these refugees. They are hard workers, often well-trained, and they accept low salaries. Many are good farmers, and Turkish agriculture needs more hands than they can afford.
In Jordan, the government and the public are unhappy with the fact that many Syrians are taking jobs away from local people, and that international help is very insufficient to compensate the state and the people for that huge burden the refugees represent for the economy and for society in Jordan.
There is much more that can be said to illustrate what the conflict does. First to the country where the conflict has started and its people, to the refugees themselves, as I started by saying, and then to the country where they are staying. In every country where such conflict erupted and went on, negative effects have been immediate and lasting.
Look at Libya. Gaddafi provided very bad governance. Indeed, there was no democratic freedom. And considering its wealth and the modesty of its population, Libya should have been much more affluent than it was under Gaddafi. But today, five years after what looked like a new dawn for the country and its people, Libyans are impoverished. Much of the country has been destroyed, and the future looks very, very bleak.
So people who speak about these conflicts and how they should be solved, and especially those who think of actually intervening to help resolve those problems, should look back a little bit at Libya, at Iraq, at Afghanistan, at Syria. Syria had much less resources than Libya, but its people were educated. They had an age old tradition of hard work, productivity, and creativity. And look at them now and at what their beautiful country has become.
I doubt very much that any Libyan had ever in their wildest and their worst nightmares thought that in their country those beautiful monuments would be destroyed. I don't think any Syrians has had a nightmare like that. And yet it is happening day in and day out. And look at the those millions of people. We see them every day on our television screen, walking the roads, the forests, and the fields of Europe from Greece to Turkey to Sweden and also from Russia to Norway. This is what conflict does. And this is what neglect does.
Neglect, first of all, by the government of Syria. They bear the main responsibility of what is happening to their country. But neglect by all of us, the international community. The Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, said more more than once, we have let down the Syrian people. Yes, we have let down the Syrian people. Syria's neighbors first, and the rest of the international community with them, have let down the Syrian people. And it is high time that Syrians are helped effectively to solve their problems instead of being encouraged, armed, and funded to continue killing one another and destroying their country. Thank you very much.
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: Well, it's a great honor to be providing just a few comments following Ambassador Brahimi's keynote. I think you all see why Mr. Brahimi is really one of the great men in the history of the United Nations, both for his experience, deep experience in all corners of the world and great wisdom. I'll be telegraphic in my remarks. We can maybe have more time in the question and answer period, but I want to just say a few words about the idea of whether or not we are in a crisis in our refugee system. And I want to suggest that we are but not for the reasons that people think we are.
Usually, the press and the politicians talk about the numbers. 60 million displaced people, 10 million Syrians displaced, a million people arriving in Europe, 8,000 deaths on the Mediterranean. Even in the United States, the crisis, so-called crisis, at the southwest border the last couple of years have brought 65,000 unaccompanied minor children to the US.
And then we talk about the funding gap. Only 50% of the $20 billion is asked for by the UN is supplied for humanitarian assistance. So these numbers are seen as describing a crisis. And then that idea of crisis is repeated by UN agencies as well, for good reasons. Because UN agencies want to call attention to the serious humanitarian harms as well has raise funds. And speaking crisis helps raise money to take care of the people whose lives have been so disrupted.
So for the displaced people of the world, these are surely crises. And it's not just Syria, as we all know. It's in South Sudan, and in northern Nigeria, and in Yemen, and in the Central African Republic, and now people moving again from Mozambique to Malawi. Just around the world, there are people whose lives have been disrupted, as Ambassador Brahimi has described.
But to me, it's not the numbers that are the crisis. These numbers can be handled. And they have been handled historically. Very large numbers of people have moved across borders and have been taken care of, if there's appropriate management and provisions put in place to take care of them. So to me, the crisis I want to talk about in just a very few words here are four crises.
There's a crisis in conflict prevention and solution. There's a crisis in policy. There's a crisis in institutional structure. And there's a crisis in political courage. I'm actually not going to say anything about the crisis in prevention and solution, because we're sitting with the world's experts to my far left here. And I'll let him answer all questions about why we don't seem able to prevent and solve conflicts around the world.
But clearly given the conflicts we are seeing, and the refugee numbers that we see coming from those conflicts, there's not a single one of those conflicts that looks like they're about to be resolved in the world. And so these numbers of people will remain outside their countries in the situations that we know they exist in.
But I will say something very briefly about these other three crises. First, a crisis in policy. And I'll say in three different categories here. First, on the emergency side, there is now an existential threat to the European experiment. Not because the number of people coming will in some way destabilize Europe. Europe's a continent of 500 million people. A million refugees is not going to be-- if well distributed and well-managed, would not be noticed in Europe.
The problem is a crisis in European policy, where a reasonable responsibility sharing plan cannot be adopted and implemented, where all the countries of Europe say we will take a proportionate share of the people coming and take care of them. And the rise of right wing politics has made that a very problematic thing to do. So what we've seen instead is a deal with Turkey, that Dr. Hintz will talk about, which is not a policy solution to the problem facing Europe, which should be dealt with by orderly admission of people, processing of people, taking care of people, returning people who don't qualify as refugees, and making sure the other people are able to get on with their lives.
Another policy problem are numbers of forced migrants who don't come within the definition of convention. Ambassador Brahimi mentioned the definition of refugee as someone fleeing persecution or fears to be returned home. And yet many people fleeing their homes around the world do not come within that narrow definition. In fact, many of the people fleeing the Syrian conflict probably don't come within the strict definition of convention, even though the neighboring countries have treated them as if they are refugees.
Generally, someone simply fleeing conflict that does not fit the definition of refugee without another showing that they are likely to belong to a group that could be persecuted. And then when you add to that people fleeing natural disasters, and climate change, and other kinds of destabilizing work, we see that there needs to be a growth in the classes of people protected by the international community from serious harms that force them to flee.
The third policy gap is in what we in the business college protracted refugee situations. And in fact, this is where most refugees around the world find themselves. The emergencies get attention. That's what we see every day in the headlines. What's missing are the literally Tens of millions of displaced people, refugees and people displaced inside their country, who stay displaced for years. I think one of the saddest facts I learned in my five years at UNHCR-- and believe me, there were a lot of sad facts.
One of the saddest facts I learned was that in our camp in Kenya, the Dadaab refugee camp, which is home to about 350 to 400,000 refugees-- and it's near the Somali border in Kenya. In that camp, we estimated that there were 10,000 children who were born to people who were born in that camp. That's not acceptable, and that's not an uncommon story. People spend decades as refugees. Now, most do not spend their lives in camps. Actually, only half of the refugees in the world are in camps, and we have this image of refugees in camps. And camps are, for the reasons that Ambassador Brahimi described, are no places for children to grow up. There aren't work opportunities for grownups, and most children don't go beyond elementary school, even if they all get-- and they're lucky if they get to elementary school. Very limited opportunities. But for refugees outside of camps, life is not much better. Many of them do not go to school. They're not protected by social benefits. They're not able to get medical insurance. And in fact, in most countries of the world, there are violations of the rights under the refugee convention that should guarantee refugees the right to work. Refugees do not have the right to work in those countries. How can they rebuild their lives? How can they take care of their families?
So this is what creates what I've called in other places "the second exile." The first exile being that which forces you from your home, but the second exile taking place in the hosting country, where you're not able to be included in the normal social processes. And I think the Ambassador Brahimi is exactly right here, that if one wants to adopt policies that are good for refugees, they have to include the hosting communities as well. Because why would the hosting community want better treatment for refugees than they are receiving themselves?
And we so we need a real thorough rethinking of the way we do our work with refugees, which right now is seen as a humanitarian problem that goes on, and on, and on, and on. In fact, in UNHCR, we had a phrase for this. It was called "care and maintenance." Basically, a system that's forever, rather than helping people rebuild their lives, become self-reliant, and contribute to the hosting countries which have been generous enough to give them safety in their countries.
The third crisis I think is in institutional structure. As I've just said, these long standing refugee problems are left to the humanitarians to handle forever. And what we need is a new approach that brings in new actors, like development agencies, who can provide resources to hosting states that are affected by the flow and the stay of refugees there, that can work both for the economic development of the region hosting, and then also give job opportunities to refugees.
We need to bring in the private sector into these efforts. And we probably need a new international organization, a multi-stakeholder institutional structure that can work on these longstanding refugee situations. UNHCR is just not able to do that, because it's a humanitarian organization. It's not able to reach out to the development actors that are needed, nor are the development actors in UN able to do that, because most of the development assistance happens outside of the UN structures. We need to think seriously about what a institutional structure might be to help in these refugee crises. And a proper functioning institution could do joint risk analysis, and assessments of needs and plans across the humanitarian and development horizons, and come up with new funding vehicles to help out.
And then lastly, there's a current crisis in political courage, quite frankly. At least in this country, the word "refugee" has always been a word that we hold dear. We're a country of refugees. We teach this to our children from day one in our schools. And yet we now face a situation in this country where the word "refugee" has become a term of obloquy. We now fear refugees, people coming into this country. That narrative has to be changed. We need to restore the word. And we need to have the courage to do it, and our leaders need to have the courage to do it.
And frankly, one of the, I think, saddest things to me in the Syria situation, in terms of how the international community has responded, is that the United States has not played its usual role of being a leader on solving major refugee crises. When the Vietnamese boat people came out of Vietnam in the '70s and '80s, the United States with the UN led an international conference. It created something called the Comprehensive Plan of Action that eventually brought a million Southeast Asian refugees to the United States. A million.
After World War II, more than 400,000 refugees came to the US through the Displaced Persons Act. And right now, we're fighting in this country about whether 10,000 Syrians-- 10,000 out of four million-- should be admitted into this country. This is shameful. This is something we're going to look back with shame, it seems to me. And the United States needs the political courage to step up and take this on.
This is not easy in the current political climate. We all know what's going on in this country, the things that are being said in the political election. Maybe we need to get past the election so that we can do the right thing here, but the world needs the US leadership on this, not only in Syria but in other refugee crises to come. The United States has been the leader in refugee protection.
The United States, through its resettlement program, which is generous, 80,000 to 100,000 people a year, even if only a small portion are Syrians, the US takes more refugees for resettlement than all the other countries in the world combined, if we now leave out the million that have gone to Germany in the last few years. But for formal resettlement, the US leads in that. And we need to take back that place of leadership in order to really help the world move.
So these are the crises that I see, not the crisis in numbers. These numbers are manageable. An adviser to the European Commission said to me recently. He said "these European countries are pretty good at handling football matches where there are 200,000 fans that come in for a football match." France has 70 million visitors a year, Italy 40 million visitors a year. I know refugees are not tourists. I get the difference. But please, if we're talking about several hundred thousand needy people forced from their homes who have come with nothing, these are countries in regions and continents that can take care of these people if we have the institutional structures, the policies, and the political courage to do it. Thank you.
LISEL HINTZ: Thank you very much. Thank you to the organizers of this panel. I'm genuinely and truly honored to be on this panel. And I want to be very quick in my remarks so we can leave enough time for questions. But I do also, like Ambassador Brahimi, want to quickly refer to the events this morning. The terrorist attacks in Belgium, which of course have no direct link to anything having to do with Syrian refugees other than they were most likely committed by one of the reasons that we have Syrian refugees, that they were fleeing radical Islamist violence in Syria.
Belgium, like Turkey, has a lot of identity issues, ethnic cleavages, religious cleavages, linguistic cleavages, that it's dealing with. And having lived in Brussels for four years, doing my masters there and teaching there, I also saw a very large, disaffected, disenfranchised, disillusioned, and disappointed Muslim community there that had no work opportunities, that felt as though they were being discriminated against on a daily basis. And so in terms-- I like the idea of the long term situation in dealing with refugees and how do we integrate them, how do we provide them with opportunities, how do we get them to be able to get along with the host populations, how do we make the host populations eager to welcome them and give them support as well? I think these are all issues that we need to think about when we think about what happened in Brussels today.
I just want to give of very quick empirical window into Turkey, which is the country that is hosting the most Syrian refugees. I'm going to slightly deviate from my colleagues recommendations about focusing on numbers, but Turkey is hosting between 2.7 and 3 million refugees. Yes, these can easily be integrated. So we shouldn't allow that huge number to be an argument for why we're not seeing more progress on the issue. But if you compare that with the 1 million refugees that the EU is hosting, that's the number of refugees that are in Lebanon right now. And the EU is a country-- or is a union of 500 million people. So I think we need to keep numbers in perspective, but absolutely these can be dealt with and they can be integrated.
Turkey initially was very welcoming. And there's not many things about the Turkish government that I would praise, but they have-- frankly, to make my views quite clear. But in fact, they for many reasons have been very accommodating, very welcoming to the refugees there. And not necessarily for altruistic reasons. The Turkish government, from 2011 to 2013, the Justice and Development Party government was feeling incredibly confident.
It had just won its third major election victory. It was really feeling like it could do whatever it wanted to, and was certain that it could deal with this refugee situation on its own. In fact, it denied international efforts to offer aid, to offer money, to offer advice. It said, "we can handle this, we got this." And they clearly don't have it. This is something that shifted when we started to see more and more and more numbers flow into Turkey. And they're starting to-- again, in a country that has already a lot of demographic issues that you're dealing with, in terms of identity cleavages, in terms of the Kurdish issue, the Alevi issue, the Armenian issue, the women's issue, the LGBT issue, regional issues, pious versus secular issues.
This is a country that has so many identity cleavages that it's already dealing with that introducing a very large new population that, in Turks' eyes, not only threatens to affect the fabric of its society, but also take away its jobs. I mean, this is a common narrative. "Oh, migrants are coming. They're going to take our jobs." We're hearing this in the presidential rhetoric in the US right now.
But this is something that is really a concern in Turkish society. But that being said, at the beginning, the government was very welcoming for a couple of reasons. One, it wanted to be seen as the Muslim brother in the region, wanted to be seen as welcoming, thought that very soon Assad was going to be kicked out of power, that there was going to be a regime transition in Syria, and that Turkey, having been welcoming of these mostly Arab refugees, would then be very well placed to be an ally with the new of Muslim Brotherhood version of a regime in Syria. And they gravely miscalculated that.
One can also look at some of the reasons that we see an aggravated refugee crisis. The government of Turkey has played a little bit of domestic politics in Syria by aiding radical groups, sending aid, military aid and economic aid, to Al Nusra, to ISIS, in the hopes of trying to unseat Bashar Al-Assad. So yes, we can praise the government for welcoming these refugees, while at the same time we can also see that they're slightly complicit in causing the problem. So I think they need to take a bit of responsibility for these refugees whose lives they've played with, essentially.
I think we see this attitude as well in the negotiations with the EU. Both the EU and Turkey have not, in my mind, engaged with serious humanitarian issues. They've engaged in opportunistic transactionalism. And this is trying to take care of what we can, keep the problem where it needs to be kept, and not necessarily deal with it ourselves. Turkey, again, has provided, as Ambassador Brahimi very well stated, the five-star refugee camps. So it has helped with the problem.
The problem is, only about 8% of the refugees in Turkey live in those camps. Most have moved on to the cities. They're involved in either black market economic transactions, some panhandling, some unfortunately being sold into sexual slavery. There's a lot of problems that are happening with these refugees that, yes, while these camps are being very well run, we're not necessarily seeing the true social cost within Turkey.
In terms of the Turkey EU deal, which I just want to mention very, very briefly, the terms are such that Turkey receives about 3 billion euros, or $3.3 billion essentially. Supposedly, the visa liberalization process will be speeded up, accession negotiations will be speeded up, chapters will be opened. We'll see what Cyprus has to say about that. There is not a lot of views either on the EU or on the Turkish side that this is actually a genuine commitment to trying to move forward in solving the problem. Rather, this is to staunch the bleeding. This is trying to, again, keep the refugees in Turkey, if we can.
I think there are establishment parties in the EU that are desperately concerned about the rise of nationalist rightist parties that are very anti-immigrant. So they want to reduce the numbers of immigrants that they're taking in, the numbers of refugees that they're taking in. On the Turkish side, they obviously want the money. We were just having a bit of a discussion earlier. What are the chances that that money is actually going to go to the refugees that need the help? I think that's a valid question to ask.
If you look at the money that's been distributed to the refugee camps in Turkey, this is something that Turkish parliamentarian, opposition parliamentarian Safak Pavey mentioned in her talk last week, if any of you were at that. But the aid that Turkey is providing to refugee camps goes to those provinces, where there is a Justice and Development Party mayor in that province. So if you are Gaziantep, if you are Sanliurfa, yes, you get money. If you are Hatay, where you have a Republican People's Party mayor, you don't. This is how this government distributes money.
So I think you know we can criticize the EU for its, again, what I call opportunistic transactionalism. But I think we also need to consider what we're dealing with when we're dealing with Turkey. The leaked tapes of the conversations show Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president, saying "oh, if you don't give us the money, we'll send you busloads of refugees. We'll send them by the busload. What are you going to do when they get there? Are you going to kill them?" I mean, anyone who uses that kind of rhetoric is not necessarily playing seriously. They're not taking the humanitarian issues really into consideration.
So again, this is perhaps not the best strategy to fix the situation, but we also have to think about the practicalities of how this is going to be implemented. You're going to have to have thousands of EU officials on these Greek islands. There right now-- I communicated with a colleague who's on the island of Lesbos right now, on Saturday night. After they finished the deal on Friday, this 1-1 exchange, where every Syrian refugee that comes to Greece is now going to be sent back to Turkey. And for every one that is sent back, one person who is in a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey will be sent back to the EU.
This is transactionalism. This is not humanitarian action. Who is going to pick who gets chosen? Who's going to pick who gets sent? How are they going to be provided for? Those who were on these boats, that were being rounded up in Lesbos to be shipped away? They had to pay the fare of the ferry. I mean, where is this money coming from? This is not, I think, being handled in the best way possible. I understand the immediacy and the gravity of the situation, but I think we need to be a little more circumspect in how we're dealing with it.
And the other issue that I just want to touch on really briefly is the international legality of this deal. You've probably seen the Amnesty International reports on this. International law prohibits mass deportations of refugees. These are being rounded up on ships and sent away. This is mass deportation of refugees, even if the language doesn't necessarily stipulate that. The idea that these are being sent back to a safe third country? The bombings in Turkey? I mean, we talk about the bombings in Brussels and the bombings in Paris. The bombings in Ankara, the two bombings in Ankara, the bombings in Istanbul, the two bombings in Istanbul. I mean, they're multiplying.
Press freedoms, gender violence, the siege and the war against the Kurds right now. I could go on and on, but I think we could just be, again, a little critical of how safe a third country we are returning these refugees to. So I want to stop there, and I think we'll look forward to your questions. Thank you.
CHANTAL THOMAS: Thank you so much to all of you for your perspectives. I want to open it up to the floor. We have a great audience turnout, so I want to make sure there is time for questions. In the back.
AUDIENCE: I don't know if you can hear me. I'll try to project as much as possible. Thank you to the three speakers. I thought tit was very nicely come together, thinking in terms of immediacy and long-term solutions. I, having several years ago visited Lebanon [INAUDIBLE], one of the big questions that I think hangs on quite heavily is, we can bring up good successful cases of absorption of refugees. We have the Lebanese case. We have the Hmong. But we also have leader failure. And I appreciated the second speaker's pointing out these gaps that seem to have a, let's say, temporal and chronological emergence in the sense of especially political courage in the United States being something very recent. But we see the behaviors have also happened in the past.
So I'm just wondering whether you have any pointers or reflections on the long-term absorption of refugees. What things could there be that might make it a very successful case rather than an absolute failure. Thank you.
CHANTAL THOMAS: Thank you. Would you like to take a few, or do you want to ask someone else?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I think that 60 million, 60 million refugees, the important point has been made by the professor, who said that, I mean, let's not kid ourselves, a lot of these people will not return. Most of the time, they haven't decided not to return. But time goes on. They grow roots where they are, and they will stay there. They would like to move elsewhere.
You mentioned South Sudan. We had a very courageous UN Special Representative in South Sudan. When there were thousands and thousands of people running away for their lives, she opened the bases of the United Nations, the offices of the United Nations. And I think how many there have now? 70,000, 80,000? Yeah. So now you have 80,000 people in the offices and the compounds of the United Nations in South Sudan. And I think most of them, perhaps all of them, dare I say, are not going to go back to our village. We stay here. We will live here. We die here. Or you find a third country that will accept us as immigrants.
These are 70,000 people that, yeah, maybe you can convince, in the end, half of them to return, but half of them will not. We had the same situation in Northern Sudan, in Sudan, in Darfur. You see people whose villages have been totally destroyed. They come to a camp. And frankly, the camp is much better than the village they came from. First of all, the village has been burned. So they have nowhere to go back to. But even if you propose to them, they have a school, they have medical facilities, and so on in the camp. They will not leave.
And so the international community has got to organize itself in a manner that you deal with this problem. And not on a humanitarian basis, with funds for the next six months, as if very hopefully within the six months they will go. And if they don't, the next six months. It's not going to be all right.
In Lebanon, you have seen something else. You have seen the Palestinians, who are there for generations. There again, you have got to address the root cause of the problem. Why are these people there? What brought them there in the first place? And I don't think the international community is organizing itself. They are organizing themselves to deal with emergency. And they do it extremely well. I mean, I'm full of admiration for people of UNHCR, the ICRC, the local Red Cross organizations, the big NGOs. They do marvelously well.
I mean, just imagine that all of a sudden you have on your hands one million people. They eat, they drink, they sleep, they have medical. If a woman gives birth, there is a hospital for her. They do wonderfully well. But I think the problem requires, as the professor has said, something more than that, something different than that. And also the point he made about-- in Lebanon, there's a village in Lebanon of 30,000. 20,000 refugees came in from Syria in that year. The mayor of that village says 20,000 is all right, but no more please.
And when you hear the prime minister of Britain saying "we're going to take 20,000 in the next four years." And the Americans say "10,000? Never!" They should go and visit this village in Lebanon. So this is, again, a problem that we have. The rich are not very good at solidarity and hospitality. The poor are much better than that.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much. I really enjoyed this. I had a question about the numbers. On the one hand, I absolutely appreciate the desire to steer clear of crisis in terms of numbers. And I also sympathize with Lisel's assessment of the EU Turkish negotiations as transactional opportunism. By the same token, I see your proposal of a solution as being more transactional opportunism of the sort, that if things were operating properly, the European Union would be transactionally opportunistic about distributing things equally among the various European Union members.
And furthermore, there is the matter of-- I mean, there's a discomfort in talking about numbers of refugees, but the confidence that we can talk about bureaucratic capacity in terms of numbers. Like that you'd have to have 1,000 people on the island of Lesbos, for example. And so are we not being a little bit disingenuous when we feel like we need to talk about numbers on the bureaucratic end but not numbers on the refugee end?
And this goes to something broader, which is, does the appeal to a nation's idealism work? Is it the best way to effect an actual solution? I mean, we've seen that appeals to idealism have at least temporary effects in Turkey, in Germany, for example. But these are problems that I think you rightly pointed out have decades-long trajectories. And is there not a way to make pragmatic cases for why integration should go forward in x and y case that are a bit more banal and a but less idealistic but might get the job done better?
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: So you want a bureaucratic solution at the end, is what you're saying? But that's OK. It's all right. It's all right. First of all, we overfocus on what's happening in Europe, because the real story of refugee protection around the world is the hospitality that Ambassador Brahimi described. 80% of the world's refugees are in developing nations. None of them have pit up barriers to entry. Finally, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey said, "we probably have enough," and they made crossing borders tougher.
But in all the other situations around the world, people have fled across borders and been welcomed in large numbers. It's only been a numbers problem when it got to Europe. Right? So the point is, so don't you need lots of bureaucrats to take care of people if they're coming in? Yeah, but I don't understand how that-- doesn't make it a crisis of numbers on either side. It simply says it needs to be managed.
Now, you say can it be managed? It can't be managed in the way the EU deal wants to manage it, because in order to obey international law and not have the forced expulsions that were described by Dr. Hintz, you have to give people hearings as to whether or not, as to their case, it's safe for them to go back. That will be a bureaucratic nightmare, and they're talking about 4,000 additional people in the Greek islands to be able to do those determinations. Those will be challenged in court. That'll be problematic.
I think the easier way to handle this is to let people in, to bring them to sites where their claims can be adjudicated in a fair and reasonable way, have reception centers, whatever you want to call it. And then that can be done in an orderly way. It's been done in other places in an orderly way. And then people recognized as refugees would be resettled in a reasonable way, with people taking their fair share. I don't see that as a numbers issue. And then others might go back if they're excluded from the process.
But I don't think it can work as currently-- I don't think you can comply with international law under the Turkish deal, the EU Turkey deal, and at the same time have a system that actually returns people in an orderly way. Because they can't get the work done that the courts are going to actually require them to do.
I think this can be managed. I think also, if I can say one more word on this, the Southwest border of the United States, which was declared a crisis not because the numbers were-- 65,000 people, it's a lot of unaccompanied minors and they need to be cared for, but the US has a system for caring for them. They're let into the country, sponsors are found. Thousands of children have come in that way. It was declared a crisis for political reasons, because there was another battle that was being fought. And that was the battle for comprehensive immigration reform and for the special measures that President Obama had put in place for undocumented kids and their parents, the DREAMER kids and their parents.
And the view was, you had to show you had the Southwest border under control if you were going to be able to sustain the other actions that were desired or had already been taken. So that's it was called a crisis in order to show a strong response by the government. We've got the Southwest border covered, so now we can take care of other things. The numbers were not extraordinary by standards, certainly not extraordinary. It could've been handled in the way that they had been handled for years before a well known system of releasing families and releasing children into sponsors and the like. So sometimes the bureaucratic answer is the right answer.
AUDIENCE: I wonder if we should completely write off the question of refugees' own agency, their own ability to organize, their own ability to take measures themselves as a nonproblem. Because they encounter a situation they see generally as temporary. They see themselves as dependent, so they don't do this. But there are cases, after all, that one comes across. In the case of Darfur, the teachers in Chad, who were refugees from Darfur, organized themselves to teach, and then went on strike when the UNHCR came in and was going to take charge for more pay.
So there are these different kind of cases one runs across, but how much can we take that into account, their own ability to organize things, their own ability to get together and do this? Places like Kenya, where you have long-term residents might be one that we should pay attention to.
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: No, I agree. I mean, I think refugees have agencies, and talents, and skills. So when you put them in camps and tell them they can't work, what do you expect? But people can take care of themselves. And the way I try to phrase this is, I talk about this with governments. We all used to say, give refugees the opportunity to contribute to the societies that have been generous enough to give them safe haven. It's good for them. It's good for the societies.
And so I'm fully with you on this. And I think we need to change the mindset of the humanitarian community to open these things up, and the hosting states to show that it actually benefits them to allow refugees to undertake these kinds of activities. But these are people who, until they, as Dr. Brahimi described, before they were forced to flee, they were living lives. They were taking care of their kids. They were going to church. They were going to school. They were going to mosque. They were involved in their communities. They were active people. There's no reason they can't be that in another place if they're given the opportunity to do so.
LISEL HINTZ: Just to say something really quickly on that, I like that perspective a lot, because I think the refugees-- I mean, we see it in the news, and I think they themselves are used to being treated as masses rather than as individuals, and their story is told as masses. And as has been said, I think quite eloquently, they do have lives, and they do have talents, and they do have skills to bring to the table.
I think in terms of agency of possibly like collective mobilization and making demands and so forth, I see that as potentially more a long-term goal to be expected of them. People are coming across without papers, without clothes, without shoes, without a lot. And so I think the most care of that can be provided to them in the short-term, to be able to give them those opportunities and then contribute back, I think is potentially the best solution, but I don't know how much can be expected immediately of mobilization when you've been torn apart and uprooted so quickly from these lives that they were living.
AUDIENCE: Lisel, as long as you're speaking, let me ask you a little more about Turkey. Do you find it credible-- and if so, what's likely to be the outcome-- of Turkey returning to being a candidate for the EU just as it appears to be moving steadily towards and authoritarian system? How can these two things fit together other than as a blackmail situation of the European Union?
LISEL HINTZ: I mean, in a sense, I think you've answered your own question. And it's a wonderful puzzle. And I wish that the EU would be a little bit more cognizant. Or perhaps they are, and perhaps just for the sake of trying to save their own skins and potentially their own electoral politics, they're not recognizing the authoritarian turn that Turkey has taken.
I would actually say the same with the US to a certain extent. Although the arrest of the main guy who was involved in the Gold for Oil Conspiracy and corruption case in Miami today was a huge step, so go US. But that's going to ruffle some feathers, because Turkey-- I think Erdogan's supposed to be here next week.
But the US desperately needs Turkey's assistance and air bases in the fight against ISIS, and as such was willing to overlook a lot of atrocities back home, was willing to overlook the closure of newspapers, the closure of television stations, the arrests of academics. One of the academics who protested the treatment of Kurds is now in solitary confinement for signing a petition.
I mean, this is a very authoritarian government, and I think that the EU, A, I don't think the Justice and Development Party's proclamation of moving forward on EU candidacy is genuine at all. I think we've seen a very-- we've seen already a slowdown in reforms. We've seen a turn away from the EU, both in practice and in rhetoric. And so I don't see that moving forward. I think it would take another government, another party, another government to move that forward.
That being said, I think the EU is also equally to blame, in terms of using rhetoric that's not necessarily very encouraging to Turkey, with this very Christian club rhetoric that was used by Merkel and by Sarkozy definitely doesn't give a whole lot of leverage to politicians that want to push that agenda forward. So I think you're absolutely right. It's a puzzle wrapped in an enigma that we're going to have to wait and see what happens to it.
AUDIENCE: So the regions we're talking about in the Middle East, like Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, there's a lot of sectarianism, and there's also talk of dividing the borders, especially in Syria along ethnic lines. And I was wondering if you think that creates more problems than it does solutions?
LAKHDAR BRAHIMI: I hope for a lot of personal and other reasons that Syria remains one. But I think the people who say that Syria can be divided, I don't know whether they will put the borders, you see? For example, Christians, if you want to create something for the Christians, where will you put it? Christians are all over the place. As far as I know, apart from a couple of maybe a little bit more than villages and that are not contiguous, that are mainly inhabited by Christians, there is not one area that is inhabited by Christians.
The Alawis, yes, there is a region on the Mediterranean. But it's a mountain. That's where they come from. They were the poorest community in Syria. There are something like maybe three, four million Alawis in all in Syria. Probably 2 million are in Damascus and Aleppo. And I'm not sure how Alawis are still in their mountain.
So this is the community that maybe because they have been in power and they have been running the country-- I mean, they haven't been in power. Some members of their community have been running the country. And so there is reason to fear for them. But how? How are you going to create a state for them?
And I think that if it were possible to organize a referendum in Syria, I'm absolutely certain that if it had been organized in 2012, I would tell you that you had 99.9%, exactly like the elections in Syria, that would say we want to remain united. Even now, with all the sectarianism and so on there, I think you are going to have a very, very sizable majority of people who want to remain together.
So I hope that Syria will be kept together. Iraq, there are more problems in Iraq. And there is a fear there that you know the Shia may want to keep the Sunnis away, and therefore the Sunnis may want to have their own state. I doubt that, even in Iraq, for the moment. If things continue as they are for another 10 years, it will be a different situation.
The question in the region is really the Kurds. The Kurds are scattered mainly in Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. There are Kurds elsewhere also, but these are the main concentrations. After the First World War, they were not given a state. They were craving for a state. In Iraq, they practically have now an autonomy situation. And I think they are doing very well.
How that is going to evolve will be a little bit complicated. Whether you will to redraw the maps to allow the Kurds to create a state together, how you will do that with Turkey and Iran is a very, very big question. But before everybody leaves, I would like to comment on the first point that the professor made. And that is the inability of the international community to solve problems, conflict situations faster.
We knew that Syria was a complicated place, and we knew that they had a terrible government, and we knew that if things continued, then you would have the sectarianism and so on. Why didn't we help the Syrians solve their problem? Why did we, on the contrary, help the Syrians fight their wars? This is a very, very big question that is not being discussed seriously internationally. And I think it should be.
And when we intervene, how do we intervene? I'm not sure that the intervention in Libya was very, very smart. I won't speak about Iraq, because I don't think anybody-- so I think the point you made there is vital, and one hopes that the international community will discuss these things. How can we effectively help a society that is in trouble, where people are uncomfortable with one another? How can we help them solve their problems rather than make it worse?
CHANTAL THOMAS: We may have time for one final question. [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: Well, speaking of what's not there, I'm struck by the invocation of humanitarian obligations and a tradition of humanitarian succor, and invocation of the obligations of the law, or the rule of law, and to be perceived as a rule of law country. But apart from a passing reference by Dr. Hintz to the myth or the narrative about how they take our jobs, there's no discussion in your comments about economics, economic conditions, or the perception of economic conditions. In my reading of American history, at the risk of oversimplification is that when times are good, we open the doors. And when times are bad or are perceived to be bad, we close the doors and we develop narratives about barbarians at the gate.
So what is the contribution of the current economic conditions that prevail in Western Europe and the United States and the perception of those conditions to both the problem and the solution.
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: So Europe, I think, is different than the US. I think that narrative you're describing has been true for attitudes toward migration but not towards refugees. I don't see a parallel between welcoming refugees and the economic system. I think that's what you hear about illegal migration, and too much legal migration, but not on the refugee side.
Europe, refugees and migration has always been linked in a much closer way. So I think it's much-- you see it. And I think that some people say the welcoming by Germany of refugees was because they need more labor. They have a good. unemployment rate. I mean, a low unemployment rate and an aging population. France, with a different situation, has been less welcoming and less open to refugees. So I think there is a closer link there, and I think you're right to draw the attention to that.
I think, again, if the numbers are distributed, they're quite workable. Even in the United States, to think about bringing in 2 or 300,000 refugees. The way refugees are brought into this country is that initially they're brought in by NGOs. There are nine different major organizations that resettle them. Most of them are religious organizations. And people are brought to small communities all around the country. It's actually a wonderful way to do it. The impact is very slight initially.
Now, there is some secondary movement. So there's a large Somali community in Minneapolis, a large Somali community in Lewiston, Maine. There's a very large Vietnamese community outside of Los Angeles. So there can be secondary movement. But again, on the refugee side, I've never heard it described in this country as an economic issue.
I thought what you were going to ask me about was the terrorism side, which I think is a very serious concern, and one I didn't talk about. And I think that has to be dealt with. And that's the reason for the slowdown in this country. And I think that the answer there, it's been said many times that the vetting that refugees go through on the security side is really much more serious than the vetting we do for hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. A million green cards are handed out a year in this country. 100,000 of them at least or more go to Muslim applicants with screening that we're OK.
But the refugee screening is much more serious than that screening. So even there, I think, if the objection is either economics or terrorism, I think we have, again, bureaucratic processes adequately in place to handle those. But you're right, there is a perception. Do you want to say something?
LISEL HINTZ: Yeah, I do think that there's a distinct discrepancy between the perceptions of citizens. Well, there's a worry about economics, about jobs, and also about crime. The idea that they're taking our jobs, that they're creating more crime. And I think the economic aspect is a really important one, because quite contrary to a lot of those perceptions, what's on the ground actually goes back a little bit to Holly's question, which is how do you sell this idea to countries other than idealistic appeals that don't necessarily move politics as much as we would wish them to?
And the fact that a lot of these EU countries, again, if we were to distribute them out in a relatively proportionate way, could benefit economically greatly from the incorporation of these migrants. I mean, again, a lot of them are skilled. They're the kinds of-- if you have a visa process that looks for particular types of migrants, these are the ones that you would be looking for, a lot of them, in any case. And so I think that that's definitely something that can be recognized in terms of the economic contribution to be made, these more pragmatic appeals as opposed to like idealistic appeals.
And in that sense, I think, just to round out my comments, I would say that the EU really, I think, has been looking a lot at burden shifting, in terms of trying to put it back on Turkey, put it back on the Middle East. And I think that in terms of burden sharing, they could do a lot more. And I think maybe focusing on on-the-ground, concrete development that can happen with the economic integration of the migrants, that might be a way to go.
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: Yeah, just if I--
CHANTAL THOMAS: Final word.
ALEX ALEINIKOFF: I actually don't agree with that last point. I don't think you'll ever sell countries on the economic benefit that refugees provide. People just won't buy it. You may be able to convince them they're not a harm, but I don't think you sell it there. I think you're going to have to sell it on humanitarianism and international law. And those things have worked around the world. And as I've said, the majority of countries in the developing world that have refugee flows take in hundreds of thousands, millions of people across their borders, not because there is an economic gain to them, but because that's what we do with people who are forced to flee.
There may be issues now about security, that unless you-- not on the terrorism side, but that having refugee flows can be destabilizing in the region, so you have to get people out so it's not destabilizing, whatever. But I don't think we'll ever win on the economic argument for the reasons you described.
LISEL HINTZ: Except that the humanitarian one doesn't seem to be working very well now, so maybe we can try a different one.
CHANTAL THOMAS: I'd like to invite everyone to continue this conversation at the reception just outside this room, and also to thank our speakers for a great panel. Thank you.
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More than four years after the start of the Syrian conflict, refugees now number in the millions and face increasingly desperate circumstances. Tragically, the Syrian refugee population only adds to the waves of displacement in the Middle East in the modern era stemming from conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other neighboring countries.
Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, former UN Special Envoy to Syria, along with panelists Chantal Thomas, Alex Aleinikoff and Lisel Hintz, highlighted the challenges of protracted conflict and displacement March 22, 2016 at a roundtable discussion in Myron Taylor Hall.
Chantal Thomas is a professor of law at Cornell Law School and director of the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa. Alex Aleinikoff is a former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva and a visiting professor of law at Columbia University. Lisel Hintz is a postdoctoral fellow at the Einaudi Center.
The event was hosted by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Berger Center for International Legal Studies, and the Clarke Initiative for Law and Development in the Middle East and North Africa.