Westminster grapples with Syrian crisis
BY DARLINE DESIL
In a two-part Global Issues Forum last month, the Westminster community discussed the Syrian war and refugee crisis, and students who have been refugees described their firsthand experiences with leaving their native homes.
The series began with a Nov. 9 panel, in which Dr. Samuel Goodfellow, Dr. Kurt Jefferson, Dr. Kali Wright-Smith, and Dr. Jeremy Straughn discussed political responses to the crisis.
The panelists gave some historical background on the Ottoman Empire’s early 20th-century collapse and its impact on Syria before contemplating moderator Straughn’s question, “Is the world prepared to handle the crisis?”
Approximately 250,000 civilians have died in the Syrian war, more than 4 million Syrians have fled to other countries, and about 7 million are internally displaced. Yet, the United States has taken in only a fraction of Syria’s refugees, with about 1,500 being accepted into the country since 2011. Thirty-one governors now say they oppose allowing Syrian refugees into their states.
Panelists said that the overall responses to the crisis have been political, noting the qualifications for refugees and the responsibilities being left to the states.
The panelists also discussed factors that have contributed to the Syrian crisis, including the roles of political figures George W. Bush, Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin; outdated U.S. foreign and domestic policies; and the 2011 Arab Spring.
While panelists said there is no easy solution, they pointed to the need for the West to better understand refugees, and one professor discussed the 17-point action plan that European and Balkan leaders are using to coordinate the movement of refugees and migrants.
In a second panel held Nov. 16, several Westminster students and one alumnus shared their experiences as refugees.
Paul Kut Kelei, ’17 (South Sudan), Neveen Abuelula, ’19 (Syria), and Mulay Smara, ’15 (Western Sahara), discussed what it was like living in refugee camps, moving from one place to another, leaving home, and not having their native homes anymore.
When asked by a student in the audience whether it is difficult to adapt to a different country, Kelei responded, “It is only in a society that is not open where you cannot assimilate.”
Smara said that democracy can be used as a tool to help refugees.
Overall, the forum was well received.
“I liked the setup and format,” Ahmed Baqui, ’17, said. “It combined two areas of political science and transnational studies. It had two different lenses, one of professors who have spent years of research and study on this topic and the other of student refugees giving their experiences as a refugee.”
The series was hosted by Global Development & Progress and the Churchill Institute for Global Engagement, and the Nov. 16 panel was co-sponsored by the International Club.