Trump Admission Peddles a Fiction About Safe Conditions in Syria
By Geoffrey Mock, Middle East Country Specialist
Here’s a reminder about Syria that, until yesterday, I didn’t think needed to be said: There’s a war going on in that country, a very brutal one. There are more than 13 million Syrians in need, some six million of them internally displaced inside of Syria, living on humanitarian aid that is at risk of being cut off at any time. There are more than 3 million Syrians living in besieged areas under regular attack by airstrikes, artillery and sniper fire. Civilian casualties continue to mount up in horrific numbers.
We need to say this because this week the Trump Administration said something entirely different: It is safe for Syrians to return to Syria. Very simply, this is a fiction.
The Trump Administration’s announcement ended Temporary Protected Status for any Syrian who arrived in the United States after August 1, 2016. The decision means that an estimated 2,000 Syrians now in the US without TPS are not eligible to receive it and are at risk of return. It also means that Syrians fleeing war, now entering its eighth year and not showing any signs of ending soon, will face harsh obstacles to finding safety in the United States and potential human rights violations.
The decision does protect some 6,000 Syrians with current TPS status in Syria. This is a welcomed step, but the government didn’t even attempt to explain why, if it’s not safe for these Syrians, it is acceptable to return all other Syrians. It didn’t even attempt to explain why the decision contradicts a US State Department travel advisory issued for Americans just last week, which says bluntly: “No part of Syria is safe from violence.”
In restricting TPS for Syrians, the US government is violating its own law and international covenants for the treatment of refugees. By US law, the government must take into consideration current conditions in the country. Under international law, countries are prevented from forcibly returning refugees to a place where they are at considerable risk of harm.
The decision also will put too much reliance on the slow, cumbersome asylum process. Most of the Syrians seeking TPS are likely to be unable to apply successfully for asylum, a legal process that has a narrow and restrictive definition focusing on political activists. Asylum was never meant to be used in a situation such as Syria — where everyone is at risk of harm.
Of course, this is yet another example of the Trump Administration’s hostility to refugees. This is the fourth announcement ending TPS status in the past month. Previous decisions affect Haiti, Nicaragua and El Salvador and will force the return of individuals who have been living in the US in some cases since the Reagan Administration.
But looking globally, this is just one more political decision that underlines just how much the world’s leading nations — from China to Russia to the European Union and the United States — are taking a shockingly short-sighted and inhumane response to the world’s greatest refugee crisis since World War II.
Increasingly the world powers are content to force Syrians if not back to Syria to countries such as Turkey, where Amnesty International has documented they are vulnerable to human rights violations, desperate living conditions and little access to jobs and formal education. The one solution — the one long recommended by the United Nations — involves a robust resettlement program of just 10 percent of the Syrian refugees.
With this week’s decision, the Trump Administration is failing to fulfil the UN expectations, but more importantly, failing to fulfill our moral commitment toward Syrians.