Fall events at Buffett tackle critical issues surrounding Syrian refugees and refugee resettlement

January 4, 2016

Since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, more than four million Syrians have been forcibly displaced from their home country. But the resulting refugee crisis from the war didn’t catch the full attention of US news outlets until recently with events like the November 13 Paris attacks and subsequent calls from US politicians to ban Syrian refugees from entering the country.

For the fall quarter, the Buffett Institute hosted a series of events that examined the Syrian refugee crisis and encouraged public dialogue on issues surrounding forced migration and refugee resettlement. Interdisciplinary collaboration between Buffett visiting scholars, the Keyman Modern Turkish Studies program, the Center for Forced Migration Studies, as well as Northwestern students and faculty led to an impressive offering of events that brought much more depth, insight, and nuance to understanding refugee issues currently making headlines in the news.

Syrian refugees in Turkey

Although in 2015 Western media often framed the forced displacement of Syrians as a European crisis, since 2011 Turkey has absorbed the largest number of Syrian refugees (estimated 2 million) of any country. Turkey faces unique challenges due to the sheer number of people entering the country as well as government policies and infrastructure that were not built to accommodate such a huge influx of people for such a prolonged (and possibly indefinite) period. 

Basak Yavcan speaks at symposium on refugees in TurkeyIn November, Keyman Modern Turkish Studies and the Center for Forced Migration Studies co-hosted the symposium, “From Temporary Protection to Permanent Settlement: Challenges to the Integration of Syrian Refugees in Turkey,” which brought together scholars from Turkey, Canada, and the United States whose work focuses on the challenges to integration for Syrian displaced populations. In the day-long event, panelists from Northwestern, DePaul University, York University, Syracuse University, the University of Washington, and the World Bank discussed the current legal, political, historical, organizational, social, and economic challenges to refugee integration in Turkey.

Examining the US refugee resettlement process

In early December, when debate on refugee (and particularly Muslim and Syrian refugee) issues began to reach their peak in US news, the Center for Forced Migration Studies hosted an event to celebrate the launch of its new Refugee Resettlement Research Program, funded by a generous gift from Aaron Edelheit.

CFMS panel on refugee resettlementThe event, titled “US Refugee Resettlement: a global model for successful humanitarian response?“ did not focus solely on resettlement of Syrian refugees, but the topic came up frequently in both in the panel discussion and Q&A. Moderated by WBEZ Worldview’s Jerome McDonnell, the panelists offered insights into the complex, sometimes opaque process of resettling refugees in the US.

Panelist Robert Carey, Director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, explained that potential US refugees “go through the most rigorous screening process for any individual entering this country, including biometric checks and in person interviews.” Over the past several years, the US has taken in around 70,000 refugees annually, but only about 2,000 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the US since the crisis began. According to Carey, there are plans to eventually boost that number to 100,000 refugees annually. “Other countries do follow the US’s lead when the US retracts or expands their refugee program. Our processes do not change quickly and decisions to admit refugees to not happen quickly.”

Both Carey and panelist Ngoan Le, the Illinois State Refugee Coordinator at the Department of Health & Human Services, fielded questions from the audience about recent statements by US state governors, including Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in their state. Carey said that while governors hold an important consultative position on refugee resettlement, resettlement services are administered by the federal government, and “those services will be provided regardless of race, religion, or country of origin.” Le stated, “We have not been asked to stop resettling refugees [in Illinois].”

The panel also raised questions that CFMS Director Galya Ruffer and Buffett visiting scholar Jessica Darrow hope to answer in the Refugee Resettlement Research Program. Ruffer, Darrow, and other CFMS scholars will be looking at resettled refugee integration experiences one, five, and 10 years out in six different states as well as analyzing public perceptions of refugees. The US currently takes in more than half of all resettled refugees, but very little research has been done on how well US refugee resettlement services are working. The program hopes to bring the potential economic benefits of resettlement into public discussion.

Watch the full December 3, 2015 panel discussion on US refugee resettlement on YouTube.

Africa, Americas, Europe, Law, Middle East, Migration, US Foreign Policy