Ever to capacity (Butler, 2014). With over half

Ever since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, when
Syrians’ non-violent demonstrations for freedom transformed into a national
revolt demanding the end of the Assad regime, Syrians have been fleeing their
country in droves and seeking asylum elsewhere. While some escape
indiscriminate violence and armed conflict, others abandon their homes because
of a scarcity of necessities such as running water, electricity, and medicine.
At the height of the crisis in 2013, over 6,000 refugees1
departed Syria daily, as refugee centers quickly filled to capacity (Butler,
2014). With over half of the Syrian population now displaced (more than 11
million within and beyond the country’s border) (Zong & Batalova, 2017),
the Syrian refugee crisis is considered the largest forced migration of
individuals since World War II (Ignatieff, 2016).

This large-scale migration has placed monumental pressure on
the infrastructure and economies of host countries, as well as caused
difficulties for refugees in terms of accessing work and educational
opportunities (UNHCR, 2015a). Despite these sordid conditions, Syrians have
been desperate to migrate, risking their lives in overcrowded rubber dinghies
or small boats to make the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean. In 2015
alone, over 300,000 Syrians crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,000 refugees are
estimated to have lost their lives at sea (UNHCR, 2015a; UNHCR, 2015b).

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The majority of these refugees initially settled in the
neighboring first-asylum countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, though as of
2017, almost a million had migrated and filed asylum claims in Europe (Zong
& Batalova, 2017). Germany for instance was applauded for its open-arms
policy towards Syrian refugees, accepting around 10,000 refugees daily in 2005
(Angerer, 2016). However, the response of other countries to the conflict has
not been as admirable. Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, and Macedonia succumbed to the
“keep-them-out-syndrome”, building fences and deploying armored vehicles to
keep Syrian refugees out (Nougayrède, 2015). Similarly, the United States (US)
only accepted 36 Syrian refugees in 2013 (Zong & Batalova, 2017).

In 2016, under pressure from the United Nations, the Obama
administration resolved to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees via the Refugee
Resettlement Program. As of 2017, the US has accepted around 15,000 Syrian
refugees who have resettled across the country in states such as California,
Michigan, Texas and Tennessee (Bergen, 2017; Zong & Batalova, 2017), though
this remains a meagre number in comparison to the response to other conflicts. Soon
after President Trump took office, an executive order temporarily halting
refugee admissions and slashing the annual rate of refugee entry was signed.
The order was delayed by legal action, but was ultimately implemented for any
Syrian refugee who could not demonstrate “bona fide” family relations in the US
(Koran, 2017).

As the Syrian refugee crisis escalates
and masses of Syrians remain displaced and/or homeless (DeSilver, 2015a),
political leaders have engaged in contentious debate regarding the most
appropriate response to the conflict. Some have been vocal, loudly voicing their
apprehension regarding the ability to safeguard their own citizens from a
perceived refugee threat, a reaction which has been partly fueled by a reported
hesitance of the public to welcome Syrian refugees (Abbasi, Patel & Godlee,
2015). Indeed, Americans have articulated their perturbance regarding the
threat refugees pose, such as that on terrorism, crime, American culture, and
employment impacts. For instance, a World Economic Forum survey found that
Americans perceive climate change and the influx of refugees to be the main perils
facing the US and frequently imagine Syrian refugees as being connected to the
November 2015 terrorist attacks (Poushter, 2016). Furthermore, despite refugees
undergoing extremely rigorous screening measures, the Pew Research Center
reports 53% of Americans do not want to accept Syrian refugees, while 11% would
accept Syrian refugees only if they adhered to the Christian faith (DeSilver,
2015b). These statistics are of concern, considering that public discourse
surrounding refugees has meaningful consequences for the acceptance of Syrian
refugees into American society, moral judgement on refugees, as well as for the
development of foreign policy towards refugees (Dincer et al., 2013).

1 A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-founded
fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership
of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of
his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail
himself of the protection of that country…” (UNHCR, 2002).

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