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

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Last updated: September 19, 2019

Ever since the onset of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, whenSyrians’ non-violent demonstrations for freedom transformed into a nationalrevolt demanding the end of the Assad regime, Syrians have been fleeing theircountry in droves and seeking asylum elsewhere. While some escapeindiscriminate violence and armed conflict, others abandon their homes becauseof a scarcity of necessities such as running water, electricity, and medicine.At the height of the crisis in 2013, over 6,000 refugees1departed Syria daily, as refugee centers quickly filled to capacity (Butler,2014). With over half of the Syrian population now displaced (more than 11million within and beyond the country’s border) (Zong & Batalova, 2017),the Syrian refugee crisis is considered the largest forced migration ofindividuals since World War II (Ignatieff, 2016).

This large-scale migration has placed monumental pressure onthe infrastructure and economies of host countries, as well as causeddifficulties for refugees in terms of accessing work and educationalopportunities (UNHCR, 2015a). Despite these sordid conditions, Syrians havebeen desperate to migrate, risking their lives in overcrowded rubber dinghiesor small boats to make the hazardous journey across the Mediterranean. In 2015alone, over 300,000 Syrians crossed the Mediterranean, and 3,000 refugees areestimated to have lost their lives at sea (UNHCR, 2015a; UNHCR, 2015b).The majority of these refugees initially settled in theneighboring first-asylum countries of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, though as of2017, almost a million had migrated and filed asylum claims in Europe (Zong& Batalova, 2017). Germany for instance was applauded for its open-armspolicy towards Syrian refugees, accepting around 10,000 refugees daily in 2005(Angerer, 2016). However, the response of other countries to the conflict hasnot been as admirable.

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Hungary, Spain, Bulgaria, and Macedonia succumbed to the”keep-them-out-syndrome”, building fences and deploying armored vehicles tokeep 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 Obamaadministration resolved to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees via the RefugeeResettlement Program. As of 2017, the US has accepted around 15,000 Syrianrefugees who have resettled across the country in states such as California,Michigan, Texas and Tennessee (Bergen, 2017; Zong & Batalova, 2017), thoughthis remains a meagre number in comparison to the response to other conflicts. Soonafter President Trump took office, an executive order temporarily haltingrefugee admissions and slashing the annual rate of refugee entry was signed.The order was delayed by legal action, but was ultimately implemented for anySyrian refugee who could not demonstrate “bona fide” family relations in the US(Koran, 2017).As the Syrian refugee crisis escalatesand masses of Syrians remain displaced and/or homeless (DeSilver, 2015a),political leaders have engaged in contentious debate regarding the mostappropriate response to the conflict.

Some have been vocal, loudly voicing theirapprehension regarding the ability to safeguard their own citizens from aperceived refugee threat, a reaction which has been partly fueled by a reportedhesitance of the public to welcome Syrian refugees (Abbasi, Patel & Godlee,2015). Indeed, Americans have articulated their perturbance regarding thethreat refugees pose, such as that on terrorism, crime, American culture, andemployment impacts. For instance, a World Economic Forum survey found thatAmericans perceive climate change and the influx of refugees to be the main perilsfacing the US and frequently imagine Syrian refugees as being connected to theNovember 2015 terrorist attacks (Poushter, 2016). Furthermore, despite refugeesundergoing extremely rigorous screening measures, the Pew Research Centerreports 53% of Americans do not want to accept Syrian refugees, while 11% wouldaccept Syrian refugees only if they adhered to the Christian faith (DeSilver,2015b).

These statistics are of concern, considering that public discoursesurrounding refugees has meaningful consequences for the acceptance of Syrianrefugees into American society, moral judgement on refugees, as well as for thedevelopment of foreign policy towards refugees (Dincer et al., 2013).1 A refugee is a person who “owing to a well-foundedfear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membershipof a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country ofhis nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to availhimself of the protection of that country…” (UNHCR, 2002).

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