Home Social Justice Featured Blog: Justice and law for the current state of Syrian refugees

Featured Blog: Justice and law for the current state of Syrian refugees

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In response to a panel discussion held involving numerous OU faculty on Wednesday evening, it seems necessary to look at the conditions of rhetoric and international law as they are playing out for Syrian refugees and the world at-large as people try to find a way to accommodate those that are displaced

Haley Duschinski, the director of the Center of Law, Justice & Culture and a professor in the department of sociology and anthropology, used her time in the discussion to talk a lot about some of this rhetoric, as did Nukhet Sandal, a political science professor. Ziad Abu-Rish of the department of history and Smoki Musuraj of the department of sociology and anthropology contributed with informative perspectives about the conflict as a whole. Loren Lybarger acted as the moderator.

Upwards of 11 million Syrians (around 4 million externally) have been displaced from their homes in the time since the beginning of a large-scale crackdown on dissent by the Baath government under President Bashar Al-Asaad (who contends that the crisis is the fault of the West.)

What started as a brutal reaction to vocal discontent and protesting has since erupted into a civil war that is directly affecting millions of Syrians, leading to their deaths and displacement on a critically morbid level. Violence from “radical” factions opposing the Baath government forces are contributing to civilian devastation with what has been noted as indiscriminate attacks that directly go against international law in place during war. (War is hell, after all.)

As for the rhetoric emanating from the conflict, there is an increasing trend of political leaders inducing fear about the influx of refugees or just the possibility of such an influx. Words like “migrant” or “guests” are another way in which leaders have tried to utilize rhetoric to downplay the seriousness of the situation and to often stir up anti-refugee sentiment to justify closing off their nations to those affected by the conflict.

Sandal brought up how Turkey has taken to calling the refugees “guests,” thus keeping many out of the labor market with the implications that they might not receive the same legal protections as everyone else.

In the case of Hungary, the country has gone out of its way to be hostile toward refugees from many nations, not just those from Syria. If one were to have checked Al Jazeera frequently, it would be hard to be ignorant to this fact.

Water canons, barbed wire fences and tear gas have been employed to deter refugees from crossing borders. In other instances, refugees have been kept away from boarding trains to reach safe havens. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban used Islamophobia to justify not allowing more refugees at a base level.

Other nations have framed asylum-seeking refugees as dangerous or illegal in nature. Leaders have designated refugees stateless, thus dehumanizing them. Though for anyone who knows international law under the United Nations,“migrants” and “refugees” are treated differently.

Duschinski pointed out a relevant example of how Al Jazeera has taken a stand in refusing to call refugees “migrants.”

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has reiterated the need for Europe  to “change course” as it pertains to the crisis. “UNHCR insists on the need to substantially increase the opportunities for Syrian refugees hosted in neighboring countries to Syria to access legal channels to the EU including enhanced resettlement and humanitarian admission, family reunification and humanitarian and student visas.”

Right now, 95 percent of Syrian refugees are being hosted in five countries, those being Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Egypt.

The United States and Europe as a whole can do more immediately by calling for change in regional laws to fall more in line with international law as directed by the U.N. By sharing the burden of responsibility, worldwide leaders and their citizens can create stability in the lives of millions of people.

Citizens can take a direct role in enacting change by pressuring their governments to further address the issue of refugees, just as the citizens of Iceland did. The White House has committed to bringing in 10,000 refugees, but it can’t claim to be clean of any wrongdoing as it has funneled resources almost indiscriminately to rebel groups helping to fuel the crisis.

Can civilian pressure contribute to creating a political environment that encourages new laws and protections welcoming refugees with open arms and creating a stable home for many more than the 10,000 that the country has committed to? That’s a question with an answer many folks across the world have a stake in.

A million refugees might end up in Germany from Syria this year alone. Lebanon and Turkey both have taken in over a million. Where is the rest of the world?

The crisis is not a temporary one. The conflict is still a violent one. Hundreds of thousands have died, and millions have picked up and will never live quite the life they once lived. It cannot be treated as something that goes away if it’s not looked at. Not many people can look away from a 3-year-old boy washed up on the beach.


Here are three pieces of media to help you understand more about what is going on with the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as info about asylum seekers in general.

Why Al Jazeera refuses to use the word “migrants” in the coverage of the current refugee crisis.

Who qualifies for asylum? The New York Times’ Emily Bazelon.

The White House Blog explaining how the United States plans on helping refugees.

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