‘We can’t keep doing what we are doing’

As of Sept. 3, almost half of the Syrian population has been displaced by turmoil that has engulfed the Middle Eastern country since 2011, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. About 7 million Syrians are displaced within the country, and more than 4 million have sought refuge in countries from Jordan to France, USAID said.

This crisis has recently garnered greater attention from the international community as an influx of refugees are making their way into the European Union and to countries that are struggling to determine how best to help. Images of a 3-year-old boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach have gone viral on social media, showing for the world the horrors of the crisis.

Serena Parekh, an associate professor of philosophy and expert in the philosophy of human rights, says that the international community must acknowledge its responsibility to assist refugees before the crisis can be properly addressed.

“We have a moral obligation,” said Parekh, who is writing a book on the topic. “When we look back on this in five years or 10 years or 15 years, we are going to be ashamed at ourselves at how we handled this. No one can play the ‘it’s not my problem’ card anymore.”

Parekh also argues that those fleeing Syria are not migrants; they are refugees. “Migrants leave their native country for better opportunities; refugees are forced to leave their countries because of fear,” she said. “They are risking everything because they have to.”

No unified plan for refugee resettlement

The crisis’ exponential growth can be attributed in part to the lack of a unified, global plan for refugee resettlement, Parekh explained, noting that each nation has different policies and procedures for addressing the refugee situation.

For example, Turkey’s federal government is funding refugee camps for 1.9 million refugees there; Lebanon has no camps for the 1.1 million refugees in its country; Hungary has begun constructing a wall along the Serbian border to prevent refugees from entering; and Icelandic citizens are asking their government to accept more refugees.

“To me, this is ‘the’ issue of the international community,” said Denis Sullivan, a professor of political science and international affairs and the co-director of the Middle East Center at Northeastern.

Sullivan has seen one refugee camp firsthand, conducting research at the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan since 2013. Operated by the United Nations Refugee Agency, Zaatari opened in 2012 and is now one of the country’s most populated communities with some 80,000 people.

“Zaatari has electricity, roadways, its own economy,” Sullivan explained.

‘No end in sight’

In order to quell the crisis, Sullivan said the international community must address the initial cause: the ongoing conflict in Syria. More than 210,000 people have died since fighting started there in 2011, first as an anti-government uprising and then as a civil war.

“There is no end in sight to the Syrian conflict,” Sullivan said. “A determined American-EU-Russian initiative must be undertaken to end this crisis that threatens stability throughout the Middle East and now increasingly inside Europe.”

For now, Parekh said the international community should examine temporary resettlement with the potential for returning home in a few years.

“The reality is that it may be generations before people return,” Parekh said. “We have to be able to help.”