Chelsea Daymon is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Communication and is a Presidential Fellow in the Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative (TCV) at Georgia State University. She is also the Executive Producer of The Loopcast, a weekly show that focuses on issues facing national security, international affairs, and information security. She holds an M.A. in Near and Middle Eastern studies from University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), an honorary M.A. from Cambridge University (UK), and a B.A. in Oriental Studies from Cambridge University (UK). She can be found on Twitter @cldaymon. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.
National Security Situation: The Syrian refugee crisis.
Date Originally Written: December 18, 2016.
Date Originally Published: January 12, 2017.
Author and / or Article Point of View: Author is an active security researcher and academic.
Background: The Syrian Civil War has devastated millions of lives, families, and the infrastructure of the country. The world has witnessed countless atrocities, death, destruction, and a refugee crisis of mammoth proportions. As of December 4, 2016, The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates over 4.8 million Syrians have sought refuge outside of the country. When considering the horrendous reports coming out of Aleppo on December 13, 2016, deliberating on strategies for when peace returns to the country may seem ridiculous. Yet, there will be a time when the conflict ends and some will want to return home. Those who arrive will find a country in complete devastation where, more than likely, their previous occupational skills will not be required until reconstruction is complete.
Significance: Historically, civil wars coupled with insurgencies have created an unfavorable mix when considering resettlement. Syria’s porous borders allow transnational actors, who are not members of the local populace, the ability to easily enter and leave while organizing and committing attacks, adding to already unstable conditions. Additionally, individuals returning to a region recently involved in a bloody conflict will arrive with deep emotional scars in need of healing. Finally, a country with a potential lack of options can likewise produce unrest and discontent in its population. Syria will benefit in the long-run and stability in the region will improve if Syrian citizens and the international community form a reconstruction plan that breeds healing, stability, and security.
Option 1: Education and training should be provided to refugees, promoting skill development in engineering, security, urban development, governance, healthcare (this should include not only physical health but mental health services to deal with traumatic stress), and education, which are all fields necessary to revitalize, sustain, heal, and cultivate a country’s future. As UNICEF notes, “education has crucial linkages to a society’s social, economic and political spheres” not only for children but adults as well. This education and training should be conducted in nations that offer first-class educational systems, providing quality teaching and imparting sound skill advancements to refugees.
Risk: The risks of Option #1 are economic and uncertain. Countries must allocate funds to enable such training, which could prove burdensome. However, the international community could work together to facilitate this. On the other hand, the future of Syria could rest in the hands of the Assad regime, or an even worse dictator, meaning that the international community would be sending highly skilled individuals to an adversarial government, presenting both a security risk and a humanitarian conundrum.
Gain: The gains would be multifaceted. Firstly, there is the potential for a positive outcome for a country that has undergone complete devastation. These skills would enable progress towards creating infrastructure, rebuilding the country, maintaining security, the promotion of individual well-being, as well as educating the next generation of Syrians. In time, this would foster economic growth.
During the Cold War, Pakistani military personnel obtained training and education in the United States (U.S.), which encouraged favorable collaboration and views of the West during a pivotal time in a battle against Communism. Similarly, providing education to Syrian refugees, particularly in Western countries, could advance positive sentiments and potential cooperation between a new Syrian government and Western nations. These are crucial elements needed for U.S. and international interests, as well as security in a region which has proven unstable.
Option 2: Provide greater opportunities for Syrian refugees to seek asylum in stable nations, especially the U.S.
Risk: The risk of Option #2 is security-related as some fear a scenario whereby a Syrian refugee commits or facilitates an act of violence in the country in which they obtain asylum. However, when considering the U.S. vetting process for refugees, including multiple interviews, biometric security checks by the intelligence community, medical checks, and cultural orientation, all of which take on average 24 months to undergo; the likelihood of security issues arising from refugees diminishes. However, there is always the possibility of some risk, as with all national security decisions.
Gain: The gains of Option #2 would be receiving individuals from a country which had a decent education system before the war, with a 95% literacy rate for 15-24-year-olds and compulsory education to the age of 15. If granted asylum in the U.S., Syrian refugees would foster a continuity of diversity which breeds economic growth and is a foundation of American values. Despite the controversy surrounding the issue, the Manhattan Institute found that both low-skilled and high-skilled immigrants added to increases in U.S. economic growth. Finally, welcoming refugees into the U.S. could advance U.S. strategic interests with the European Union by providing a display of goodwill to countries already inundated with refugees themselves. Furthermore, it could offer leverage with regional negotiators in regards to the future of Syria.
Other Comments: None.
 Syrian Emergency. (2016, December 4). Retrieved from http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php#_ga=1.176014178.178231959.1481466649
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