Syria’s Refugee Problem and the West
Refugees from Syria should be hosted by Middle Eastern countries.

Syrian refugees at the Zaatari camp in Jordan.


Daniel Pipes

The lull in the chemical-weapon crisis offers a chance to divert attention to the huge flow of refugees leaving Syria and to rethink some misguided assumptions about their future.

About one-tenth of Syria’s 22 million residents have fled across an international border, mostly to neighboring Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey. Unable to cope with the numbers of refugees, the governments of these countries are restricting entry, prompting international concern about the Syrians’ plight. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, suggests that his agency (as the Guardian paraphrases him) “look[s] to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in countries better able to afford to host them,” recalling the post-2003 Iraqi resettlement program, when 100,000 Iraqis resettled in the West. Others also look instinctively to the West for a solution; the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for example, has called on Western states “to do more” for Syrian refugees.

The appeal has been heard: Canada has offered to take 1,300 Syrian refugees and the United States 2,000. Italy has received 4,600 Syrian refugees by sea. Germany has offered to take (and has begun receiving) 5,000. Sweden has offered asylum to the 15,000 Syrians already in that country. Local groups are preparing for a substantial influx throughout the West.

But these numbers pale beside a population numbering in the millions, meaning that the West alone cannot solve the Syrian-refugee problem. Further, many in Western countries (especially European ones such as the Netherlands and Switzerland) have wearied of taking in Muslim peoples who do not assimilate but instead seek to replace Western mores with the sharia. Both German chancellor Angela Merkel and British prime minister David Cameron have deemed multiculturalism, with its insistence on the equal value of all civilizations, a failure. Worse, fascist movements such as the Golden Dawn in Greece are growing.

And many more Muslim refugees are likely on their way. In addition to Syrians, these include Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Palestinians, Egyptians, Somalis, and Algerians. Other nationals (e.g., Yemenis and Tunisians) might soon join their ranks.

Happily, a solution lies at hand.

To place Syrians in “countries better able to afford to host them,” as Guterres delicately puts it, one need simply divert attention from the Christian-majority West toward the vast, empty expanses of the fabulously wealthy Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as the smaller but in some cases even richer states of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. For starters, these countries (which I will call Arabia) are much more convenient to repatriate to Syria from than, say, New Zealand. Living there also means not enduring frozen climes (as in Sweden) or learning difficult languages spoken by few (such as Danish).

More important, Muslims of Arabia share deep religious ties with their Syrian brothers and sisters, so their settling there avoids the strains of life in the West. Consider some of the haram (forbidden) elements of life in the West that Muslim refugees avoid by living in Arabia:

Pet dogs (of which there are 61 million in the United States alone)

A pork-infused cuisine and an alcohol-soaked social life

State-sponsored lotteries and Las Vegas–style gambling emporia

Immodestly dressed women, ballet, swimsuit beauty contests, single women living alone, mixed bathing, dating, and lawful prostitution

Lesbian bars, pride parades, and gay marriage

A lax attitude toward hallucinogens, with some drugs legal in certain jurisdictions

Blasphemous novels, anti-Koran politicians, organizations of apostate Muslims, and a pastor who repeatedly and publicly burns Korans

Instead, Muslims living in Saudi Arabia can rejoice in a law code that (unlike Ireland’s) permits polygamy and (unlike Britain’s) allows child marriages. Unlike France, Arabia allows wife-beating and goes easy on female genital mutilation. Unlike in the United States, slaveholding does not entail imprisonment and male relatives can kill  their womenfolk for the sake of family honor without fear of the death penalty.

The example of Syrians and Arabia suggests a far broader point: Regardless of the affluence of the host countries, refugees should be allowed and encouraged to remain within their own cultural zone, where they most readily fit in, can best stay true to their traditions, least disrupt the host society, and from whence they might most easily return home. Thus, East Asians should generally resettle in East Asia, Middle Easterners in the Middle East, Africans in Africa, and Westerners in the West.

U.N. take note: Focus less on the West, more on the rest.

Saudis: Time to welcome Muslim coreligionists under stress with open arms.

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved.

Syrian Refugee Crisis
The United Nations recently announced that the number of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war there has grown to two million — about half of them children. Here’s a look at the refugee crisis and conditions in one of the larger refugee camps in Jordan.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced on September 3 that the total number of Syrian refugees had grown to two million. Only a year ago there were less than 250,000. Officials estimate about half of those two million are children.
There are now more Syrians living as refugees than from any other country. Said one UNHCR official: “Syria is hemorrhaging women, children, and men who cross borders often with little more than the clothes on their backs.”
The refugee crisis is impacting countries throughout the region. UNHCR estimates that another 700,000 Syrians have fled into Lebanon, with more finding shelter in Turkey and Iraq. Pictured, refugees at a Turkish border crossing.
Refugees cross the Orontes River into Turkey in December, 2012.
Thousands of Syrian Kurds stream across the Tigris River into the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.
More refugees cross into Iraq near Dahuk.
Refugee camp in the Iraqi city of Arbil.
The Zaatari refugee camp in northern Jordan sits just six miles from the Syrian border. Since opening in the summer of 2012, the camp’s population has swelled to 120,000, making it the second-largest refugee camp on Earth and the fourth largest city in Jordan.
The material challenge of supplying and maintaining living conditions for so many refugees remains daunting.
According to aid workers, maintaining order in the sprawling camp has been difficult, with thefts of aid supplies common, and frustration remains high in a population that is used to a higher standard of living than most refugees.
In the coming months, aid workers manning Zaatari will work with the Jordanian government to establish local governance councils. The UNHCR is also constructing another camp nearby.
But the prospect of a more permanent presence is proving difficult for every country hosting refugees. Jordan has already taken in more than half a million Syrian refugees into multiple camps — the equivalent of 8% of its population — which has taxed local water resources.
Even in the dismal conditions at Zaatari, refugees find ways to maintain the rhythms of their lives.
Children attend classes at a school managed by UNICEF.
Abd al-Raouf Abo Majd (at right), known as the “Zaatari Barber,” cuts hair in a UNHCR tent.
A wedding celebration makes its way through Zaatari in September, 2012.
More images of daily life at Zaatari.
Some of the many children living at Zaatari.
A Syrian couple hold their newborn daughter, born at Zaatari, in July, 2013. Said the father: “God help this new generation of refugee children. They have nothing to live for, except wars. God help us.”
Updated: Sep. 06, 2013