Syria Options: Refugee Preparation & Resettlement

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[1].  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[2].  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[3].  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[4].  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[5].  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[6].  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[7].   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[8].  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[9].

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None


Endnotes:

[1]  Syrian Emergency. (2016, December 4). Retrieved from http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php#_ga=1.176014178.178231959.1481466649

[2]  Shaheen, K. (2016, December 13). Children trapped in building under attack in Aleppo , doctor tells UN. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/13/red-cross-urgent-plea-to-save-civilians-aleppo-syria and Cumming-Bruce, N. & Barnard, A. (2016, December 13). ‘A complete meltdown of humanity’: Civilians die in fight for eastern Aleppo. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/world/middleeast/syria-aleppo-civilians.html

[3]  Staniland, P. (2005-06) Defeating Transnational Insurgencies: The best offense is a good fence. The Washington Quarterly. Winter, 29(1), pp.21-40.

[4]  UNICEF, Education and peacebuilding. (2012, August 2). Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/education/bege_65480.html

[5]  Moyar, M. (2016). Aid for Elites: Building Partner Nations and Ending Poverty Through Human Capital. Cambridge University Press.

[6]  Pope, A. (2015, November 20). Infographic: The screening process for refugee entry into the United States. The White House Blog. Retrieved from https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2015/11/20/infographic-screening-process-refugee-entry-united-states and Altman, A. (2015, November 17). This is how the Syrian refugee screening process works. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/4116619/syrian-refugees-screening-process/

[7]  Global Education Cluster (2015, March 16). Retrieved from http://educationcluster.net/syria-4-years/ and Education System Syria. Ep nuffic, The organization for Internationalization in Education. Retrieved from https://www.epnuffic.nl/en/publications/find-a-publication/education-system-syria.pdf

[8]  Furchtgott-Roth, D. (2014) Does immigration increase economic growth? Economic Policies for the 21st Century, No.2. Retriever from http://www.manhattan-institute.org/pdf/e21_02.pdf

[9]  Long, K. (2015, December 16). Why America could ― and should ― admit more Syrian refugees. The Century Foundation. Retrieved from https://tcf.org/content/report/why-america-could-and-should-admit-more-syrian-refugees/

Aid and Development Chelsea Daymon Civil War Option Papers Refugees Syria

Syria Options: No Fly Zone & Syrians Rebuilding Syria Program

Abu Sisu and Seshat are intelligence analysts currently working in the field of homeland security.  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:  Civil war, humanitarian, and international crisis in Syria.

Date Originally Written:  November 30, 2016.

Date Originally Published:  December 26, 2016.

Authors and / or Article Point of View:  Abu Sisu has more than 20 years of experience as a military and homeland security intelligence analyst.  Seshat is an intelligence analyst with over six years of experience living in the Middle East and focuses on local solutions to local problems.   

Background:  The complex and protracted nature of the conflict in Syria has continued for almost six years with no side achieving a definitive political or military victory.  While estimates vary, between 250,000 to 500,000 Syrians have died since 2011 and around eleven million were displaced from their homes, with almost five million having fled Syria[1].  The Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) has intentionally targeted civilians since the civil war began.  In September 2015 the Russian military began assisting Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s regime through airstrikes against rebel held territory which inflicted thousands of civilian casualties.

Significance:  The widespread targeting of civilians violates international law and has fueled the largest refugee and displacement crisis since World War II, further destabilizing the region[2].

Option #1:  A U.S.-led Coalition imposes a no-fly zone in Syria.  A no-fly zone is airspace designated as off limits to flight-related activities[3].  The SyAAF depopulates territory as a way to eliminate support for opposition groups.  A U.S.-led Coalition could restrict SyAAF movement thus protecting critical areas in Syria.  As with earlier no-fly zones in Iraq (Operation Southern Watch/Focus) and Bosnia (Operation Deny Flight), U.S. and Coalition forces would likely be authorized to attack other targets—anti-aircraft assets for example—that threaten the mission.  On October 24th, 2016 Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Deborah Lee James said she was confident that it would be possible to impose a no-fly zone in Syria[4].  Mike Pence, the U.S. Vice President-Elect, announced his support for a no-fly zone during the Vice-Presidential debate on October 4th, 2016[5].

Risk:  Russian government activity supports the Assad regime and a no-fly zone may be interpreted as an attempt to undermine Russian national security goals.  If the U.S. cannot reach an agreement with the Russians on the implementation of a no-fly zone, the U.S. can expect the Russians to respond in one or more of the following ways:

Rejecting cooperation on Middle East issues.  Russian support is important for maintaining the Iran nuclear deal—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action—and for concluding a peace agreement to the Syrian Civil War.  If Russia withdrew or chose to undermine efforts related to the Iran nuclear deal or the Syrian Civil War, it is likely that neither situation would achieve an acceptable resolution.

Escalating pressure on North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Members or U.S. Allies and Partners.  Russia has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to Europe in the past and made aggressive military moves in the Baltics as a warning to Finland and Sweden to reject NATO membership[6][7].

Direct military confrontation between Russian forces currently supporting the Assad regime and U.S.-led Coalition forces in the region.  With both Russian and U.S.-led Coalition aircraft flying in Syrian airspace, the possibility exists for conflict between the two, either accidentally or when attempting to evade or enforce the no-fly zone.  Additionally, Russian forces deployed anti-aircraft missiles to Syria and, as of October 6th, 2016 declared that any Coalition airstrikes against territory held by the Syrian government would be interpreted as a “clear threat” to Russian forces[8].

Gain:  A no-fly zone could eliminate the threat to civilians from the SyAAF.  Displaced persons would have more options to relocate within Syria rather than making a perilous journey to other countries.  A no-fly zone would reduce the capabilities of the Assad regime which has relied on airpower to counter attacks by opposition forces.  A reduction in Syria’s ability to use airpower may serve as another incentive for the Assad regime to seek a negotiated settlement to the conflict.

Option #2:  A pilot program that provides Syrian refugees with the training and skills to rebuild Syria in the aftermath of the conflict—Syrians Rebuilding Syria (SRS).  SRS will solicit the assistance of volunteer engineers and architects—specifically those involved with the post-conflict reconstruction and development in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Lebanon—to train refugees.  The aim is to equip teams of refugees with the appropriate vocational training in architecture, city planning and development, brick laying, constructing roads, installing or repairing electrical grids, operating heavy construction machinery, and implementing sewage and drainage systems among other things.

Risk:  As the intensity of the Syrian Civil War increases the refugee flow the SRS will require increased funding to train them.  The accumulated costs of the SRS program in the short-term are unlikely to yield a tangible return on investment (ROI) and success will be difficult to measure.  Without a way to demonstrate ROI, the U.S. Congress may hesitate to appropriate continued funding for SRS.  Additionally, the success of the program depends on the outcome of the Syrian Civil War.  If Assad is not defeated, graduates of SRS may be viewed as American-trained spies, whose goal is to infiltrate and undermine the regime. Further, without a specific plan as to where the SRS-trained refugees will return to in Syria, or who they will meet once they arrive, the trainees will likely face unpredictable conditions with no guarantee of success.

Gain:  A militarily agnostic option that trains refugees to rebuild Syria could prove to be a strategically effective tool of U.S. soft power.  SRS would not burden the U.S. with nation building, but instead provide Syrians with the necessary tools to rebuild their own country.  These factors would likely assist in countering anti-Americanism, particularly among Syrians, and serve as a model for effective non-military assistance in future conflicts. Additionally, as the conflict is prolonged, graduates of SRS will likely become more attractive refugees to other countries in the region due to their employability.

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1]  CNN, L. S.-S., Jomana Karadsheh and Euan McKirdy. (n.d.). Activists count civilian toll of Russian airstrikes in Syria. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/30/middleeast/un-aleppo-condemnation/index.html

[2]  United Nations. (2016, March 15). Syria conflict at 5 years: The biggest refugee and displacement crisis of our time demands a huge surge in solidarity. Retrieved December 02, 2016, from http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/press/2016/3/56e6e3249/syria-conflict-5-years-biggest-refugee-displacement-crisis-time-demands.html

[3]  Hinote, C. (2015, May 05). How No-Fly Zones Work. Retrieved November 23, 2016, from http://blogs.cfr.org/davidson/2015/05/05/how-no-fly-zones-work/

[4]  OMelveny, S. (n.d.). SecAF: US Could Create Syria No-Fly Zone While Fighting ISIS [Text]. Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.military.com/daily-news/2016/10/24/secaf-us-could-create-syria-no-fly-zone-while-fighting-isis.html

[5]  Syria Draws a Rare Source of Accord in Debate Between Kaine and Pence – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2016, from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/06/us/syria-vice-presidential-debate.html?_r=1

[6]  Russia Gazprom risks another gas standoff with Ukraine – Business Insider. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-gazprom-risks-another-gas-standoff-with-ukraine-2015-2?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+businessinsider+(Business+Insider)

[7]  Russia Issues Fresh Threats Against Unaligned Nordic States. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2016, from http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/2016/05/05/russia-issues-fresh-threats-against-unaligned-nordic-states/83959852/

[8]  Oliphant, R. (2016, October 06). Russia warns it will shoot down alliance jets over Syria if US launches air strikes against Assad. Retrieved December 04, 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/10/06/russian-air-defence-missiles-would-respond-if-us-launches-air-st/

Abu Sisu Aid and Development Civil War No-Fly or Safe Zone Option Papers Refugees Russia Seshat Syria