International Collective Action for Refugees Is Slow but Crucial

200,000 killed over four and a half years of Syrian conflict; 1.3 million applications from asylum seekers in Europe expected this year; 4.7 million asylum seekers remain in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan; 3,000 dead or missing in the Mediterranean; only 37% of the funding appeal by the UN's Refugee Agency (UNHCR) met at this time. The Syrian conflict has become a game of unfathomable numbers. And collective action from the international community has been slow.

"What we're seeing now is that as individual resources dwindle and as it becomes clear that the conflict isn't going to resolve itself in the near future, many people are deciding to look for better quality of protection and more permanent protection in Europe's asylum system," said Susan Fratzke, a Policy Analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Germany has become a destination for many asylum seekers for a number of reasons, including a robust economy within the EU and a supportive narrative for immigration. "Over the last few years, Germany has really been developing a strong and universal positive narrative about immigration," Fratzke noted. "Germany needs more people in order to maintain its economic strength."

Karen Musalo, Director for the Center for Gender & Refugee Studies at UC Hastings College of the Law agreed. "There are established immigrant communities, which means there is the likelihood of arriving asylum seekers being able to locate family and friends, or others from their country," she said via email. "And although there are neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant elements who engage in violence, there is no well-established anti-immigrant political party in Germany as there is in countries such as France," she added.

That narrative creates tension for places like Hungary, that don't have the economic strength or the positive immigration stance of Germany. And even in a place like Germany, the positive narrative could turn negative. "I think that's a huge concern at the political level and particularly at the local level amongst the communities that are seeing the huge numbers of people," Fratzke said. "Even if there is an opening, sort of culturally and economically for new people who are arriving, if there isn't time to really receive them in the right way, integrate them, then there's definitely a potential for a more negative narrative to develop."

There has been scattered response from individuals and the private sector filling in some gaps: Google announced an effort to match $5.5 million in donations towards the crisis; citizens in countries receiving refugees are stepping in to assist; soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo made headlines over the weekend when he escorted Zied onto the field with him. Zied is a Syrian refugee whose father was tripped by a Hungarian camerawoman as he made his way to Germany. Ronaldo's club, Real Madrid, also announced plans to donate 1 million euros to help refugees in Spain. And IKEA has raised 10.8 million euros for the UNHCR. This is all in addition to work being done by NGOs.

However, none of this replaces collective action from the international community on multiple levels: emergency aid, political action, and a willingness to assist refugees with resettlement. If more countries opt in and assist with the refugee crisis, the burden is lessened on everyone as a whole. So far, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Egypt have hosted the most number of refugees out of Syria--a total of 95%. Lack of cohesion means the crisis will continue to worsen. The UNHCR pointed out that for any solution to work among European countries, they must work together.

The U.S. recently announced that it will take in up to 100,000 refugees from around the world by 2017. The announcement is a reminder that though the Syrian conflict has contributed to an increase in refugees, many are fleeing conflicts from other places as well, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia. Taking in more refugees is only the first step, however. Once refugees arrive, they need to be able to resume normalcy--earn a living, integrate into society, be allowed the opportunity to live safely. "I think there's a need to increase the number of people we're resettling to show solidarity with other countries that are facing this crisis," Fratzke noted, "but we need to make sure if that happens, it's matched with a corresponding commitment to adequately support people once they get here."

Additionally, addressing the root cause of displacement--violence and conflict--is necessary. "There must be a concerted effort to bring that conflict to an end," Musalo said referring to the Syrian conflict. Former High Commissioner for UNHCR, Sudako Ogata once stated, "There are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian problems." The solutions are political. "That's definitely true in this case," Fratzke said.