US report warns against ‘destabilisation’ of Arab countries by refugee crisis

The report warned about potential instability in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon and called for the US and other affluent countries to accept more refugees.
Sunday 10/06/2018
Uncertain future. A Syrian refugee child plays at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. (Reuters)
Uncertain future. A Syrian refugee child plays at the Al Zaatari refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq. (Reuters)

WASHINTON - Several Arab countries could “descend into chaos” in the next decade if they are forced to absorb increasing numbers of refugees from Syria and elsewhere, a report from a US think-tank stated.

The report warned about potential instability in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon — all US allies — and called for the United States and other affluent countries to accept more refugees and asylum seekers and to give more money and aid to countries that are being flooded by displaced people.

“The populations of places like Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt are growing rapidly but their economies are not keeping pace,” stated the report, written by experts and former US government officials for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “These issues, when coupled with an influx of large numbers of Syrians escaping conflict, could eventually result in collapse and further regional destabilisation.”

Mary Beth Long, who helped write the report, said Jordan was particularly vulnerable because it is home to so many immigrants and displaced people, including hundreds of thousands who fled war in neighbouring Syria.

“Jordan is truly imperilled by its immigration problem and by migrants from Syria and other places. If Jordan falls or becomes imperilled, that will become a direct threat to the United States and Israel,” said Long, a former assistant secretary in charge of international security affairs at the US Defence Department.

Long spoke May 29 when CSIS released the report, which addresses the “crisis” of refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people around the world.

The report warned about Lebanon, which is home to 1.2 million Syrian refugees in addition to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and Iraqi refugees. Noting that the country of 6 million people faces high unemployment and a tottering economy, the report said: “The future could feasibly spell collapse for Lebanon.”

In Lebanon, refugees make up a larger share of the population than in any other country in the world, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. Jordan and Turkey are in second and third place on that list.

The report warned about a global crisis of refugees and displaced people and came as many European countries restricted border crossings by people fleeing conditions in the Middle East and Africa. The United States and President Donald Trump have come under criticism for reducing refugee admissions to their lowest point in years.

The Trump administration capped refugee admissions at 45,000 for the fiscal year that ends September 30. That includes a maximum of 17,500 refugees from the region stretching from Algeria to India. Both of those numbers are about half of what they had been since 2000.

From November 1, 2017, through April 30, 2018, the United States admitted 11 refugees from Syria, US State Department records show. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, the United States admitted 12,587 Syrian refugees, the State Department said.

The US restrictions exacerbate the crisis of refugees and displaced people, the report said.

“Countries have said, well, you’re not taking the initiative, so why should we?” said Tom Ridge, who was Homeland Security secretary under US President George W. Bush and led the team that wrote the CSIS report. “America needs to lead on issues like this. When we elect our president and Congress, we focus a lot on domestic issues but since [the second world war], the rest of the world has looked to American leadership.”

There are 66 million refugees and displaced people — the highest number since the second world war — and the number could grow to 320 million by 2030, the report said.

Gayle Smith, who led the task force with Ridge and was head of the US Agency for International Development under US President Barack Obama, said the United States needed to spend more helping other countries develop and on international diplomacy to resolve disputes that force people to flee. “I fear a world in which we turn our backs on the world’s most disenfranchised,” Smith said.

Asked about the backlash in the United States and Europe against refugees, Ridge was critical of political leaders he did not name.

“In certain countries, certain elected officials have made the notion of forced migrants, refugees, immigration a political issue and around that political issue they’ve tried to generate fear. It’s mythical,” Ridge said.

Ridge implicitly criticised Trump, who has sought to expand a wall separating the United States and Mexico and to restrict travel to the United States by people from Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen and Somalia.

“This whole notion that these men and women and children [fleeing their countries] are just writ large terrorists — it’s just false,” Ridge said. “It’s the worst kind of fearmongering going and it’s unworthy of the United States of America.”