America’s Shameful Record on Syrian Refugees

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The US government played a role in the collapse of Syria. It continually placed sanctions on this little country, including the 2003 Syrian Accountability act.

By 2013 the CIA was apparently passing medium weaponry through Saudi Arabia to fundamentalist militias, the ideology of which cannot easily be distinguished from the Taliban. They hate Shiites and Druze (altogether 15% of the population, maybe more). They want to subject Christians (5%) of the population and make them second class citizens. They’ve engaged in brutal child-killing and sometimes even beheadings. One of the fundamentalist leaders, who benefits indirectly from US aid to his colleagues still has not renounced his pledge of allegiance to 9/11 mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri. To be fair, the US seems to want to pressure Bashar al-Assad to step down as president rather than to install neo-Taliban in Damascus. But the path they’ve taken could end up with that result. Also to be fair, the brutal Stalinist regime of al-Assad has killed more people and tortured more people even than the worst fundamentalists.

The US is invoking self-defense against Daesh (ISIS, ISIL) to justify aerial bombing of Syria and the insertion of some 300 US troops among a leftist Kurdish militia.

The US contribution to the destabilization of Syria, where half of the 22 million people are homeless (4 million pushed abroad) is substantial.

Another one of the causes was the US destabilization of Iraq, which spilled onto Syria.

So the US surely has helped out with the resultant massive refugee flow, right?

Wrong. Being American means never having to make restitution for ruining other people’s lives. (The US killed between 1 and 2 million Vietnamese peasants but makes Rambo films celebrating that violence; I mean to take nothing from the bravery of our vets, but most of them knew by the early 1970s that the war was sold under false pretenses; Vietnam had never done anything at all to the US).

Here are the pitiful numbers for Syrian refugees admitted to the US since the Syrian Revolution began (a revolution egged vigorously on by the US embassy in Damascus– again, for all the right reasons but with deadly effect).

Fiscal 2011: 29

Fiscal 2012: 31

Fiscal 2013: 36

Fiscal 2014: 105

Fiscal 2015: 1,682

Fiscal 2016: 10,000

In contrast, Germany admitted about 500,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, and another half a million from other countries.

In 2015, Sweden took in 80,000 refugees, a third of them from Syria.*

The US not only has done almost nothing about the issue, it has been churlish about the tiny actions so far taken. State governments and legislatures have objected to letting Syrians into their states. (Immigration is a Federal matter so they don’t really have anything to say about where people in the country legally may live).

As their predecessors did in the 1930s with regard to Europe’s Jews, the latter-day know-nothings have claimed that Syrian refugees will be terrorists or subversives. Lebanon, a country of 4 million, has 1.2 million Syrian refugees, so it is really being subverted big time by them, right? Nope.

Of 750,000 refugees admitted to the US since the mid-2000s, almost none have committed any acts of terrorism. American-born white supremacists have been far more active in that field.

So the US taking 10,000 Syrian refugees is a cause for celebration, because we are stepping up to do something rather than nothing. But we still just aren’t doing much, especially given our deep involvement in intensifying and prolonging the Syrian civil war.


Related video:

CCTV News: ” US meets target of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees”

Addendum from a reader:

“Interesting article about US and Syrian refugees, but the figures regarding Sweden were wrong. We have received the following numbers of asylum seekers:

2014 81 301

2015 162 877

2016 17 687 (Jan-Jul) /I don’t know how many of these were from Syria/

The dramatic decrease of refugees this year is due to three factors: 1/ stricter rules decided by the Parliament 2/ the EU agreement with Turkey = refugees are not allowed to leave for Greece/Europe 3/ few refugees are let through, aiming for the countries in the North.

Kind regards

Bernt Jonsson

19 Responses

  1. You talk about the amount of refugees that the US and European countries take in, but why don’t you mention 3 million refugees in Turkey, 1.5 million in Lebanon, or 1.25 million in Jordan? According to wikipedia, over ten million people are displaced and will need relocation.

    If you are arguing that the US should accept more refugees, why aren’t you pointing out these much larger numbers?

  2. Juan, this is a more balanced article than your previous pieces. It highlights U.S. Involvement in Syria. It is not enough though. I hope in future you will devote more space and time to exposing CIA and esp. HRc role in arming of the fundamentalists. Via Libyan arms.
    I don’t like what Assad is doing. I wish he had precise weaponry like we do to minimize civilian casualties. But what can Alawite, Druze and many Sunnis who support Assad do? Their survival is at stake.
    Also provide evidence for Syrian Baath party being a Stalinist party.. Finally, casualties figure in Syria include a great number of Syrian Arab army soldiers and civilians living in government areas. One has to be fair and accurate.

  3. What 10,000 refugees? Even that minor promise was made by Obama years ago. I wrote to the White House that I would take all of those 10,000, if the US would supply the modest budget and a (large) surplus building in Baltimore. No reply. Health and Human Services actually denied the building on the grounds that agencies to help the homeless are not allowed to conduct businesses (such as shops and restaurants) on the premises to employ the homeless. No doubt it was cheaper to twist arms in the EU to pay Turkey to do that, and then accuse them of blackmailing the EU.

  4. The United States should never have become involved in Syria in the first place. We should have told the rebels initially, in no uncertain terms, that whatever their goal, they can expect no assistance from the U.S.

    We managed our interests in the Near East for 45 years while the Assad family ruled Syria. Neither Hafez al Assad nor Bashar al Assad were our friends, but neither did they actively thwart our interests in the region. Since 1970 Syria has been in the Russian orbit, so not much has changed. Looked at from the perspective of national interest, we have none in Syria. We never did, we do not now.

    Our involvement in Syria, like our involvement in the overthrow of Gadhafi in Libya, demonstrates the futility of “humanitarian intervention.” Libya has descended into chaos, and that would be the likely result were Assad to be removed, either that or a far worse Islamist regime replacing him. U.S. intervention should be an option only when U.S. interests are at stake. So-called “humanitarian intervention,” like so-called “nation building,” is a fool’s errand.

    There is an old saying that seems to be repeated with our (and others’) actions time and again: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  5. Here in Canada (we are approx 1/10th pop of US) we took in 25k Syrians and it has worked out remarkably well and at minor cost to our government as they are all sponsored.

    • Please visit any American inner city, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC, Detroit. America is neglecting American citizens by the millions. They need opportunities first.

      • Re: Detroit’s “inner city”.

        The Metro Detroit area – and Michigan in general has taken in a relatively large number of Syrian refugees and there have been no adverse effects on the state economy as a private support network has helped these refugees.

        The Muslim-majority Detroit enclave of Hamtramck has the official nickname “League of Nations” and has been a key location for incoming refugees from Syria. Hamtramck has distinguished itself from Detroit by a comparatively low crime rate, almost nonexistent blight, and a bustling business district alongside several mosques and community leaders have credited recent immigrants from Yemen, Bangladesh and other areas of Asia with these successes.

        Some links:

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  6. The brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad…has he brutalized more people than the Saudi regime that we kneel in front of?? Why is it OUR prerogative to determine who is brutal and has to go and who doesn’t? Why don’t we apply this logic to, say, Robert Mugabe? Could it be that Zimbabwe has no oil and is not of interest to Israel?

    • Yes, Helen. The Baathis in Syria are *much* more brutal domestically than the Saudis and just as authoritarian. They have tortured over 10,000 prisoners to death and are responsible for a significant number of the 400,000 Syrians killed in the Civil War.

      Abroad, Saudi now bears responsibility for some civilian deaths in Yemen.

      • I am glad to see this response since your article seems to emphasize US involvement and reduce Assad’s responsibility. The reason there is a civil war is Assad. He is responsible for probably a minimum of 75% of all the deaths. He is, by many definitions, a war criminal. As for the Saudis or any other actors, there are NO clean hands in the Middle East. Even our friends the Kurds, who have often been victims, were often deeply involved in the
        Armenian massacre during the Ottoman rule.

    • The basic distinction is not how brutal a regime may be domestically but the extent to which it exports brutality. From this standpoint the activities of the Syrian regime or Mugabe confine such activities within their own borders while the Israelis, for instance, deploy almost all their brutality on their neighbours. Although this may be perceived as an issue of ‘morality’, it is not itself a moral issue, it is one of simple facts. The US diverges from other nations in considering itself entitled, when so inclined, to play prosecutor and judge, and to administer direct retributive responses through methods such as those outlined in Dr Cole’s opening paragraphs. China doesn’t do that, Russia doesn’t either, in fact no other nation does, and those Europeans and others who tag along with the US wouldn’t either were they not variously coerced. The traditional way to deal with behaviour considered unacceptable, ostracisation, can be anything from a personal or group decision to have nothing to do with the offender, all the way through to sanctions, and movements such as BDS. The simple answer to your question, Why is it OUR prerogative to determine who is brutal and has to go and who doesn’t? is that it is not a your prerogative, it is an entirely self-assumed condition that appears to many not only ill-considered but a real threat to vast areas of our world since its effects have a tendency to open Pandora’s boxes in a viral manner. This is the reason why many outside the US loop are genuinely concerned about Clinton and regard Trump as the distinct lesser of two evils, concerns that are fertilising right wing movements that are threatening to fracture the integrity of many, particularly European, democracies. link to

  7. Properly, America should make the lives of all Syrians whole. In other words, cede chunks of territory to Syrians, to let them live under their own values and governance. Which is politically impossible. So a compromise must be reached. Destroy other people’s countries, bring them in as refugees, and expect them to adopt American values. That sounds like justice!

  8. Refugee’s should never leave Syria. Unites States isn’t responsible for any of this. NATO responded.

    UN should set up a mega city for all of them, so they can form their own government and build out from that mega city.

    Who is Assad going to rule when everyone leaves and moves into a western built mega city on Syria??

  9. Juan, thank you so much for this very informed article. So sad and unfair of the tiny number of refugees the US has taken.

    May God reward those leaders in Germany who cared for refugees.

  10. How many have Saudi Arabia taken in?
    How many have Israel taken in?

    Are they not the authors of the policy causing the problem? Are they not paying Bush, Obama and Clinton’s bills?

    Have you visited Calais, France?

    • “How many have Israel taken in?”

      PM Netanyahu has stated “tiny Israel” has no room to accept any refugees from Syria – however 2015 was a record years for the last 10 years for Jewish immigration into Israel under the Law of Return – also known as “aliyah”; 30,000 Jews made aliyah in 2015 with the enthusiastic encouragement of Netanyahu.

      Labor Party Leader of the Opposition Isaac Herzog expressed support to accepting Syrian refugees into Israel.

  11. we make the wars that refugees flee from. it is up to others to take them in. they are not our problem. there is no profit in them anyhow.

    • When the South Vietnamese government collapsed in 1975, the U.S. Air Force evacuated hundreds of Vietnamese children under Operation Babylift authorized by President Ford.

      There is no reason the Obama administration should not incorporate a similar program for Syrian children – so incidents like the Alan Kurdi drowning can be avoided in the future. There is no danger in allowing entry to small children who are refugees.

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