Column: America should do more to help Syrian refugees

Global stability is at stake if America and its citizens don’t do more to help refugees.

History will be stained by the enormous tragedy that is Syria. Almost six years of brutality have left upwards of 500,000 dead and more than 13.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. If the same happened in the United States, that would mean 6 million people killed — or roughly the entire cities of Los Angeles and Houston combined. Imagine for one moment what it would be like to have half of our population displaced: this is exactly what has occurred in Syria.

During previous horrors at this scale, we did not have the Internet, we did not have instantaneous connectivity, and many said they did not know what was happening. They learned of atrocities long after they were perpetrated. These last six years, we have seen the images almost as they happen. We know them all too well — dead children and flattened cities — and yet the flow of horrors has continued.

There are many decisions that led us to where we are today and we will be agonizing over them for generations to come. However, what we can and must focus on today is how we can each act to ease the suffering of the Syrian people as quickly as we can while concurrently holding those responsible for these atrocities accountable.

The enormity of the tragedy has raised the question of what we can actually do. In truth, there is much more that we can be doing as individuals, as families, as businesses — as Americans. We have voices and we can use them loudly.

First, we can and we must act immediately to help those in Syria and those who have fled to neighboring countries. While governments try to enforce cease fires and negotiate a political settlement, we cannot just wait. What we can do is press for urgently needed supplemental funding to help address the humanitarian appeal in Syria and neighboring countries. With Congress back in session and as President-elect Trump and his Cabinet assume office, let us all make this a priority issue for both parties.

The truth is, the war in Syria has no boundaries. While we “Make America Great Again” we must do things that matter to our national security as part of that overall mission. The failure to fund critical humanitarian programs for children in refugee camps, for example, means that an entire generation of Syrian children will be lost. This represents a major downward pull on global stability. The war in Syria is not just a Syrian issue, or a Middle Eastern issue. It is an American issue and a strategic threat. The incoming administration and 115th Congress can and must consult with organizations like the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, International Rescue Committee, Save the Children and others so that they understand why this is no longer a choice; it is an imperative that we must encourage them to recognize.

Second, we must press our elected officials to secure the safe passage of unarmed civilians fleeing violence within Syria. After more than 15 years of war, none of us were hoping for another. But, the war is here and we must identify partners who will work with us to create and sustain an international force charged with protecting evacuees. A no-fly-zone is a critical component of this effort as is a broad coalition of country contributors.

Third, as refugees make it out of the conflict zone, they need somewhere safe and secure to go and restart their lives. Many of us have family members whose lives would have been very different if this had been available to them. And others of us are products of refugees who were welcomed into the U.S. So, as the State Department leadership transitions, you can call for an increased quota of Syrian refugees allowed to enter the U.S. next fiscal year. We met our 10,000 quota early last year, but with more than 40,000 Syrians displaced from just Aleppo in December, this number must be higher. Otherwise, millions of Syrian refugees will languish in camps, with no real access to education or opportunity. Syrian refugees — like so many refugees before them — can make meaningful impacts on our country and should be provided with a safe and secure place to resettle with their families.

As a former government official now in the private sector, I admired the White House’s Call to Action initiative on World Refugee Day. Building on this effort, companies can consider how to support newly resettled refugees whether through time, talent or other resources.

Many have asked how we actually communicate these imperatives. Our voices today can so quickly reach decision-makers. Each of us has time to write a letter to President-elect Trump, call our members of Congress and express why these are critical moves to make; each of us has a voice. Explaining to them why this matters to you — and to the safety and security of your own family — is critical.

Let’s not wait and wonder what heartbreaking picture will come next. Let’s use all of our facilities to act, and act quickly.

Samantha Vinograd served on the National Security Council from 2009 to 2011, including as senior adviser to National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon. Follow her on Twitter: @sam_vinograd

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @USATOpinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To submit a letter, comment or column, check our submission guidelines.
BY: Samantha Vinograd – The article was published on ‘US Today’ under the title, “What you can and must do about Syria”