The Syrian refugee crisis has left over two million homeless, stranded and scared. Last night, the issue came to Penn.
The Penn Law Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project hosted a panel discussion titled “Syrian Refugees: Barriers to Finding Space,” at the Penn Law School as a part of Penn Law’s Public Interest Week. The three guest speakers included Trudy Rubin, a foreign affairs columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, Omar Al-Ghazzi, a doctoral student at the Annenberg School for Communication and Salam Al Kuntar, an assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology.
First, discussion moderator Thomas O’Boyle and Lecturer in Law Fernando Chang-Muy asked the panelists what the top issues facing Syrian refugees are.
Rubin said that it is the Syrian government’s strategy to push people out of the country, adding that the increase in refugees is only going to continue.
[The government is] “deliberately creating a refugee problem,” she said.
Al Kuntar said that many are hesitant to leave Syria in the first place because they fear being trapped in refugee camps. Other panelists added that the neighboring countries often have trouble dealing with these new immigrant populations.
“When people do flee, the local countries cannot properly absorb them, ” Chang-Muy said.
Panelists agreed that the most important issue was the United Nations’ inability to properly provide aid, since the U.N. only funnels relief through sovereign nations.
“The U.N. needs to deal immediately with the situation,” Al Kantar said. “[Currently] aid is impossible to get to.”
The panelists had divergent positions on what other immediate action needs to be taken. Rubin believed that the only way to stop the refugee flow is to stop the war, and in order to stop the war the U.N. needs to give rebel groups weapons. Al-Ghazzi, however, believed that this would only sustain the conflict.
Despite varied opinions on a possible solution, all three panelists agreed that the conflict in Syria is of the utmost importance.
“The US needs to seriously prioritize this issue,” Al Kantar said.
An audience member asked the panel why the US should involve itself in the conflict when there are so many other pressing issues going on internally. The panel said that the US has a responsibility to the people in the Middle East.
“The US has a responsibility because of the past trauma it has caused in the region,” Al-Ghazzi said.
Students who attended echoed the panelists’ mentality.
“In this day and age of globalization, international events affect everyone, especially issues of human rights,” College senior Rachel Durning said.