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Too Rich to Care: (How the Developed World is Handling the Largest Refugee Crises since WWII)

March 1, 2017



“I’ll look Syrian Children in the face and tell them they can’t come in.” U.S. President Donald J. Trump.[1]




         Today there are more than 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes because of conflicts and natural disasters.[2] Recent events have created the largest number of refugees in the world since the end of World War II.[3] In other terms, every minute 24 people were displaced in 2015.[4] If the world’s displaced people were a country, they would be the twenty-first largest, and would compose a country whose population is larger than that of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand combined.[5] The large amount of refugees and internally displaced people raises the question of whether, and to what degree, the international community is meeting their legal obligation to aid the displaced people, and in what conditions are those being aided residing.

            The increase in the global refugee population can be attributed to numerous reasons. According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, there are three primary factors that led to the increase in the global numbers of refugees and internally displaced people from 59.5 million in 2014 to over 65 million at the end of 2015.[6] First, long-running conflicts, or conflicts lasting more than a decade, have continued to persist in countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan.[7] At the end of 2015, there were 1.1 million Somalia refugees and 2.7 million Afghan refugees.[8] Second, new conflicts, or conflicts that have begun in the past five years, have occurred in countries such as Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi, Ukraine, and the Central African Republic.[9] For example, Syria alone produced over 1 million refugees that were newly registered in 2015 bringing the total population of refugees originating in Syria to almost 5 million.[10] Lastly, solutions for the large number of displaced people are being found at their slowest rate since the end of the Cold War in 1991.[11] 

            In the absence of a coordinated effort by the international community, many of the displaced persons have resorted to self-help remedies. These remedies commonly include seeking refuge in a different part of their home country or in fleeing to neighboring countries. For refugees that do make it to another country, they often face many additional trials that range from a lack of resources, to a general resentment of their presence. However, the immigration process can be improved for the refugees and their host country by taking steps such as offering languages and skills courses, encouraging integration and toleration, and by supporting various organizations whose aim is to help immigrants.  

            This article will examine the current refugee crisis, the causes of the crisis, and potential solutions. Part I examines binding international treaties that outline the minimum requirements and rights refugees must be afforded. Part II details many of the causes of the current refugee crisis. Part III compares various host countries, and examines how they have handled the current refugee crisis.  Part IV concludes and suggests potential solutions for how host countries can cope with the current influx of refugees. 




        The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (“UDHR”) is a declaration adopted by the United Nations general assembly in 1948.[12] The declaration is believed to outline rights to which human beings are inherently entitled.[13] Although the declaration is not a treaty with legal force, it is widely considered to be customary international law, or a widely accepted principle. Article 14 of the UDHR states, “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”[14] Asylum is protection granted by a state to someone who has left their home country for their safety or because of war.[15]

        Some regions of the world provide more protection for refugees than what is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For example, the European Union (EU) (a political and economic block composed of twenty-eight member states)[16] considers asylum to be a fundamental right and has worked toward creating a common asylum policy between its’ member states.[17] The United States (often referred to as a nation of immigrants) has such a long history of welcoming immigrants that many consider it a core American value.[18] This value was further codified when Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980 in response to the needs of persons that have been subjected to persecution in their homelands.[19] The Act raised the limitation on refugees admitted to the U.S. and eliminated bias based on religion, nationality, and other factors by creating a uniform and effective resettlement and absorption policy.[20]

        However, even with all of the international commitments, refugees and asylum seekers are still being denied access to countries, and their rights under international agreements and federal laws.




        The majority of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia fit the legal definition of a refugee. Syria has slid into a civil war, which has seen more than 450,000 Syrians killed, after largely peaceful protest as part of the Arab Spring were met with violence from President Bashar al-Assad’s government.[21] The Syrian civil war has been labeled the deadliest conflict of the twenty-first century.[22] Any Syrian who opposes the government in Syria faces an imminent threat to their life because of their belief and as a result many are fleeing because of a well-founded fear of persecution because of their political opinion.

         In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban has committed massacres against civilians. In 2016 the Taliban carried out a single attack in the Afghan capital of Kabul that killed thirty and injured over 300 people.[23] Similar attacks have been carried out in Pakistan. On Easter Sunday in 2016 the Taliban bombed a park in Lahore, the second largest city in Pakistan that killed sixty-nine and injured over 300 others.[24] These are just two examples of the terrorist attacks that have been carried out by the Taliban in the past year. Those fleeing the governance of the Taliban are fleeing because of war and violence and fear of persecution based on their nationality and political opinion.

         Lastly, in Somalia Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group, has carried out over 364 attacks in Somalia in the last decade.[25] Somalia planned to hold its first popular one-person-one vote election since 1967, however, the election had to postponed until 2020 due to an increase in attacks by Al-Shabaab.[26] Somali citizens fleeing the attacks of Al-Shabaab are refugees because they are fleeing violence in their home country and essentially face persecution because of their nationality, or the mere fact that they live in Somalia.




       Today ten countries have taken in over 50% of the world’s refugees.[27] Those ten countries account for less than 2.5% of the world’s global Gross Domestic Product (GPD). The top five destinations for refugees are Jordan (2.7 million), Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.5 million) and Iran (979,400).[28]

       Turkey has the largest economy of the ten countries that host the most refugees, with an economy that is $721.1 billion.[29] The European Union (EU) however, with the world’s second largest economy at $16.27 (GDP official exchange rate)[30] trillion composing over 16% of the global GDP, has taken far fewer refugees and has even entered into a controversial plan where refuges that attempt to enter the EU through Greece will be sent to Turkey.[31] Under the plan refugees that reach Greece via Turkey will be returned to Turkey. The policy and its aims when implemented however have adverse effects on migrants. First, the refugees that are being returned to Turkey are not Turkish; many of them have simply traveled through Turkey.[32] Second, upon being returned to Turkey the refugees are often placed in detention centers for long periods of time.[33] Lastly, refugees under international law are not supposed to be returned to unsafe countries.[34] While Turkey is not currently at war, in the past year Turkey had a major attempted coup to which the government responded by jailing over 30,000 people who are suspected to be connected.[35] Turkey has also been plagued by over a half dozen terrorist attacks in 2016 leaving hundreds dead and more severely injured.[36]

       The United States in 2016 under outgoing president Barack Obama admitted 84,995 refugees. While 2016 saw the U.S. take in the most refugees of Obama’s two terms in office the U.S., as the world’s richest nation, can afford to take in far more for three primary reasons. First, the U.S. has the world’s largest economy with a GDP official exchange rate of $18.56 trillion.[37] Secondly, it also is the third largest country by both land mass[38] and population.[39] Lastly, the U.S. has the economic might, space and capability to take in millions of refugees; nevertheless, the key element missing is the political will to do so.

        While the EU has entered into a controversial deal with Turkey, President Trump has issued two executive order aimed at stopping nationals from seven Muslim majority nations from entering the U.S.[40] The first executive order had the stated purpose of stopping refugees from countries like Syria from entering the U.S. As President Trump said “I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interest of the United States and thus suspend any such entry.”[41] The order stops nationals from countries such as Syria, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya from entering the U.S. for up to ninety days.[42] Many countries on the list produce high numbers of refugees because of internal conflicts. Luckily, federal judges issued an injunction order that was later affirmed by an appellant court blocking the first executive order passed by Trump.[43]

       A few months after Trump’s initial executive order was blocked he issued another similar order.[44] The second order barred nationals from six instead of seven countries (excluding Iraq), removed preferential treatment for religious minorities, and a few other minor changes.[45] The practical effect of both the orders is to essentially deny admission into the U.S. for those most in need. This denial is based heavily on religious beliefs, and an unfounded belief that the entire Islamic faith is full of evil terrorist. Fortunately, a federal judge has already blocked part of the second order.[46] U.S. District Court Judge William Conley ruled in favor of a Syrian man and issued a temporary restraining order blocking the “directive’s potential impact on the family of a Syrian refugee living in Wisconsin.”[47] (It is not year clear if the Trump Administration will appeal.)  The U.S., under the new administration, is enacting isolationist and protectionist policies that exclude those most in need.





A. Conditions in Europe


            However, for the refugees that make it into a rich nation, the battle does not end. Refugees who make it to a different country and are in the process of waiting to have asylum status granted have faced terrible conditions including sleeping outside with no protection and living in over packed camps with no running water for extended periods of time.

            In Greece, for example, the Council of Europe and other aid agencies have said that refugees are being kept in sub-standard conditions, and are being locked away in camps that may violate international law.[48] In Germany, Heval Aram, an Iraqi asylum seeker, said that there is no room to sleep, bath, or relax in the migrant camp that he is in.[49] He later went on to say that he hopes that no one leaves their home country to end up in a refugee camp.[50] Aram’s feelings have been echoed by refugees in the Netherlands and other European countries who claim that they are given very little food and have been denied language courses.[51]

            Even in countries that have taken significant steps to improve the conditions of refugees, there has been backlash often from citizens. In Italy, refugees are given free board and lodging, €3 (or around $3.20) a day for spending, and access to courses in things such as ice cream-making and how to drive.[52]  However, the cost of housing and provided services for the estimated 99,000 refugees in Italy has cost the state more than €1.16 billion (or around $1.32 billion).[53] The large sum of money required to house the refugees has, understandably, been widely criticized by Italians. Many of who point to Italy’s deteriorating economic situation as justification for not providing services for the refugees.



B. Public Opinion in the U.S.


“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”[54]


            While conditions and public support for refugees in Europe has been waning, America a nation composed of immigrants has rarely supported their immigration. In 1958, 55% of Americans opposed to resettle 65,000 Hungarians that escaped a communist regime. In 1979, 62% of Americans opposed a plan to permit 14,000 refugees from Indochina to be admitted to the U.S. In 1980, 71% of Americans opposed letting refugees from Cuba resettle in the country. However in 1999, only 30% of Americans opposed bring Albanians from Kosovo into the U.S. As the statistics show, the American public in most cases has not supported the idea of resettling sizable numbers of refugees in the U.S. Currently, only about 36% of U.S. voters support accepting refugees from Syria.[55] The quote on the Statute of Liberty seems to be more of an aspirational goal than a policy that has support from America’s political elites, or the general population.




            A solution to the current global refugee crisis will require a massive effort involving international agreements, humanitarian aid, and military action. The most important step will be to stabilize the countries that are producing large numbers of refugees. However, in the short term, it is important for nations and citizens of countries around the world to remember that refugees are people.

            There are a number of steps that host countries can take in order to ease the burden of accepting refugees and turn their immigration into the country into a positive. First, language lessons should be offered; in the U.S. this means English lessons for refugees. Second, refugees should have the chance to take skills courses that build on skills and trades that they may have had in their home countries. Third, public schools should focus on a global curriculum that discusses different cultures and the benefits that flow from diversity and toleration for people of different cultures. Lastly, the government should change its rhetoric when discussing migrants.

            There has been much discussion about the potential for immigrants to be terrorists, however, net benefits for the U.S. have not been widely published. For example, Lewiston, Maine was an abandoned mill town until Somali refuges settled there in 2001.[56] Within several years the crime rate dropped and the per capita income increased greatly.[57] In Decatur, Georgia, refugee children attend a charter school where over fifty languages are spoken.[58] The school has been so successful that many non-refugee families are enrolling their children.[59] Stories similar to these need to be shared with the general public to create a positive perception of immigrants. In addition to polices being enacted by local organizations, every-day citizens can help with immigration by donating and volunteering with charities, religious groups, and (NGOs) that work to help refugees and immigrants. This has already occurred in various parts of America in response to President Trump’s recent executive order.     

            One such organization is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) whose attorneys have offered pro-bono service to those that were trapped in airports across the U.S. after the executive order was enacted.[60] According to USA Today, ACLU received over $24 million in donations within a week of the new executive order.[61] This increase in donations is more than the ACLU raised in all of 2016.[62]




            Today there are more than 65 million people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes because of conflicts and natural disasters.[63] While we live in a world composed of nations and nation-states it is important to remember that most nations have committed to the aims and goals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to refugees. This document came into existence after the end of World War II when record numbers of people had been displaced fleeing persecution from Nazi Germany and other antagonists in the conflict. It is important to approach the current refugee crisis while remembering the last. Many people who live in countries like France and Germany are the sons and daughters of people who were once refugees.

      If managed properly, the current refugee influx can be a benefit to nations. For example, many European nations have an aging population and shrinking workforce, while many refugees are young men.[64] If properly trained the young refugees can plug holes in the workforce and help propel the country’s economy forward.

       Compassion and humanity are said to be two of the characteristics that separate humans from animals. In the handling of the current refugee crisis, it is important to remember the moral obligation that humans owe to each other and to all of mankind.

        It is important for governments in rich, developed countries to teach tolerance for different cultures and to provide crucial skills and services to those immigrating into various countries.



[1] Nick Allen & Ruth Sherlock, Donald Trump: 'I'll look Syrian children in the face and say they can't come', THE TELEGRAPH, (Feb. 7, 2017), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/donald-trump/12147515/After-tomorrow-Donald-Trump-could-be-unstoppable.html.  


[2] European Commission, Refugee crisis in Europe - Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection - European Commission Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection, http://ec.europa.eu/echo/refugee-crisis_en (last visited Dec. 8, 2016).


[3] Lily Rothman & Liz Ronk, This Is What Europe’s Last Major Refugee Crisis Looked Like, TIME MAGAZINE, (2015), http://time.com/4029800/world-war-ii-refugee-photos-migrant-crisis/ (last visited Dec 10, 2016).


[4] UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency, Forced Displacement in 2015, Global Trends (2016), http://www.unhcr.org/576408cd7.pdf (last visited Dec. 15, 2016).


[5] Id. at 5.


[6] Id.


[7] Id.


[8] Id.


[9] Id.


[10] Id.


[11] Id.


[12] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A. Res. 217A (III), U.N. Doc.


[13] Id.


[14] Id.


[15] Cambridge English Dictionary, Asylum, http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/asylum (last visited Dec. 16, 2016).


[16] Profile: European Union, BBC (Sept. 24, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18788906.


[17] Common European Asylum System, Migration and Home Affairs - European Commission (2016), https://ec.europa.eu/home-affairs/what-we-do/policies/asylum_en (last visited Dec 16, 2016).


[18] Niall McCarthy, The United States Is a Nation of Immigrants, FORBES (Jan. 23, 2017), https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/01/23/the-united-states-is-a-nation-of-immigrants-infographic/#4470f6cf7e02.


[19] Human Rights Watch, Renewing U.S. Commitment to Refugee Protection, (Mar. 2010), https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/30th-AnnRep-3-12-10.pdf


[20] Id.


[21] Al Jazeera, Syria's Civil War Explained,  AL JAZEERA, (Feb. 7, 2017), http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/05/syria-civil-war-explained-160505084119966.html.


[22] Id.


[23] Lydia Tomkiw, Afghanistan Terror Attack Updates: Taliban Hits Kabul In Worst Attack Since 2011, INT'L BUS. TIMES, (Apr. 19, 2016), http://www.ibtimes.com/afghanistan-terror-attack-updates-taliban-hits-kabul-worst-attack-2011-2356011.


[24] Sophia Saifi, In Pakistan, Taliban’s Easter bombing targets, kills scores of Christians, CNN (Mar. 28, 2016), http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/27/asia/pakistan-lahore-deadly-blast/.


[25] Mohsin Ali & Sebastien Billard-Arbelaez, Al-Shabab attacks in Somalia (2006-2016) AL JAZEERA, (Jan. 25, 2017), http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/interactive/2016/08/al-shabab-attacks-somalia-2006-2016-160830110231063.html.


[26] Muhyadin Ahmed Roble, Al-Shabaab steps up attacks in run to the Somalia elections, AFRICAN ARGUMENTS, (Sept. 19, 2016), http://africanarguments.org/2016/09/19/al-shabaab-steps-up-attacks-in-run-up-to-the-somalia-elections/


[27] Al Jazeera, Ten countries host half of world's refugees: report, AL JAZEERA, (Oct. 4, 2016),  http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/10/ten-countries-host-world-refugees-report-161004042014076.html.


[28] Id.


[29] World Bank, Turkey Overview Turkey Overview, THE WORLD BANK, http://www.worldbank.org/en/country/turkey/overview.


[30] Europe: European Union, THE WORLD FACTBOOK,  (Jan. 12, 2017), https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ee.html.


[31] European Union GDP Share of World Total (PPP) data, GDP Share of World Total (PPP) European Union, http://www.economywatch.com/economic-statistics/European-Union/GDP_Share_of_World_Total_PPP/ (last visited Dec 27, 2016).


[32] Riham Alkousaa, ‘Disaster in the Making’ The Many Failures of the EU-Turkey Refugee Deal, SPIEGEL ONLINE:INT'L (May 26, 2016), http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/the-refugee-deal-between-the-eu-and-turkey-is-failing-a-1094339.html..


[33] Id.


[34] Id.


[35] Gul Tuysuz & Eliott McLaughlin, Failed coup in Turkey: What you need to know, CNN (Jul. 18, 2016), http://edition.cnn.com/2016/07/18/middleeast/turkey-failed-coup-explainer/.


[36] Rafi Schwartz, The terrorist attack in Istanbul is one of many to hit Turkey that you may not have heard about Fusion, http://fusion.net/story/320382/istanbul-terrorism-turkey-isis-ppk-tak/ (last visited Dec 18, 2016).


[37] Kyle Hanby, National Debt is a Real Threat to America, ACTION INSTITUTE, (Jan. 6, 2017),


[38] World Atlas, The Largest Countries in the World, WORLD ATLAS, 

http://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-largest-countries-in-the-world-the-biggest-nations-as-determined-by-total-land-area.html (last visited Feb. 20, 2017).


[39] United State Census Bureau, U.S. Census Bureau Current Population, (2010 Census), https://www.census.gov/popclock/print.php?component=counter.


[40] Dan Merica, Trump signs executive order to keep out ‘radical Islamic terrorists’, CNN (Jan. 30, 2017), http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/27/politics/trump-plans-to-sign-executive-action-on-refugees-extreme-vetting/.


[41] Id.


[42] Id.


[43] Ilya Somin, Opinion, Thoughts on the appellate court ruling against Trump’s immigration order, WALL ST. J., (Feb. 10, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2017/02/10/thoughts-on-the-appellate-court-ruling-against-trumps-refugee-order/?utm_term=.ea3303e9953b.


[44] Louis Jacobson, Trump’s travel ban executive order, take 2, POLITIFACT, (Mar. 6, 2017), http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/mar/06/trumps-travel-ban-executive-order-take-2/. 


[45] Id.


[46] Josh Gerstein, Revised Trump travel ban suffers first legal blow, POLITICO, (Mar. 10, 2017), http://www.politico.com/story/2017/03/trump-travel-ban-court-hearing-235927.


[47] Id.


[48] Gabriela Baczynska & Hugh Lawson, European rights watchdog complains about Greek migrant camps conditions, REUTERS, (May 11, 2016), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-rights-idUSKCN0Y21V1.


[49] Barbara Tasch, German refugee camps are so awful that refugees are trying to get passports to return home, BUSINESS INSIDER, (Jan. 26, 2016), http://www.businessinsider.com/conditions-in-german-refugee-camps-are-so-bad-that-iraqi-refugees-are-returning-home-2016-1?r=UK&IR=T.


[50] Id.


[51] Jake Burnman, 'Bored' migrants BEMOAN lack of cash to buy cigarettes and slow internet in camps, EXPRESS (Sept. 27, 2015), http://www.express.co.uk/news/world/608358/Ter-Apel-Migrants-Refugee-Netherlands-Crisis-Croatia-Hungary-European-Union.


[52] Nicholas Farrell, Welcome to Italy: this is what a real immigration crisis looks like, THE SPECTATOR (Jun. 20, 2015), http://www.spectator.co.uk/2015/06/the-invasion-of-italy/.


[53] Steve Scherer, Italy relocates 70 refugees as costs to house migrants double, REUTERS, (Oct. 21, 2016), http://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-italy-idUSKCN0SF28C20151021.


[54] Katie Mettler, Give me your tired, your poor’: The story of poet and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus, WASH. POST (Feb. 1, 2017), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/02/01/give-us-your-tired-your-poor-the-story-of-poet-and-refugee-advocate-emma-lazarus/?utm_term=.391f9abf8e88; Thu-Huong Ha, The story behind the Statute of Liberty’s unexpected transformation into a beacon for refugees and immigrants, QUARTZ (Feb. 1, 2017), https://qz.com/898486/give-me-your-tired-your-poor-the-statue-of-libertys-unexpected-transformation-into-a-beacon-for-refugees-and-immigrants/.


[55] Mark Hensch, Poll: Few support Syrian refugees entering US, THE HILL, (Aug. 15, 2016), http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/291471-poll-most-reject-syrian-refugees-entering-us.


[56] Renewing U.S. Commitment to Refugee Protection, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST, (Mar. 2010), https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/30th-AnnRep-3-12-10.pdf.


[57] Id.


[58] Id.


[59] Id.


[60] Jonna Rothkopf, A List of Organizations Dedicated to Helping Immigrants and Refugees That Need Your Support, JEZEBEL (Jan. 30, 2017), http://jezebel.com/a-list-of-organizations-dedicated-to-helping-immigrants-1791772883.


[61] Id.


[62] Id.


[63] Adrian Edwards, UNHCR viewpoint: ‘Refugee’ or ‘migrant’ – Which is right?, UNHCR (Jul. 11, 2017), http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/7/55df0e556/unhcr-viewpoint-refugee-migrant-right.html.


[64] European Commission, DEMOGRAPHICS AND THE ECONOMY: HOW A DECLINING WORKING-AGE POPULATION MAY CHANGE EUROPE'S GROWTH PROSPECTS, http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=1196&newsId=2402&furtherNews=yes  (last visited Feb. 20, 2017).

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