The Syrian refugee crisis is having two interconnected consequences. The first is the ‘brain drain’, the loss of skill sets, knowledge base and capital that results from the departure of such a massive amount of people. In Syria’s case the impact of the brain drain alone is staggering.
The second consequence of this exodus is more unique to the specific context. Particularly, it has to do with the displacement taking place at a time when the crisis in Syria and the Levant more broadly is increasingly being framed in sectarian ways. Most of the previous waves of mass migration out of Syria in the past century occurred during eras of rising Syrian and Arab nationalist sentiment. The hollowing out of the population under these circumstances coupled with the rise of the armed groups and the entrepreneurs of war has silenced the voices of those who are advocating a national Syrian project.
And yet, with the panic accompanying the dramatic rise of refugees and migrants entering the European Union in 2015, it is easy to forget who is suffering the real burden of this crisis. Hungarian PM, Viktor Orbán claimed that if Europe continues to receive Muslim migrants it will “crush the lifestyle...values and strengths [it has] developed in the past several hundred years.” The former British prime minister David Cameron among other conservative politicians, used economic arguments that put forth the idea that refugees will make EU nations poorer by putting pressure on public services, damaging the labor market and pushing down wages. The portrayal of the refugee crisis as a European problem overshadows the fact that it is primarily a crisis for Syrian refugees, Syrian society and the neighboring countries in the Middle East that host 55 per cent of the world’s refugee population.
Moreover, this narrative of the crisis conceals the fact that European states inflate the burden on poorer states in the Middle East by spending a lot of money on techniques of excluding refugee populations. While Jordan has taken over 600,000 refugees, the UK, which has 78 times the GDP of Jordan, has said it would allow only 20,000 refugees over the next five years. Lebanon now holds about 1 million registered Syrian refugees with estimates of an additional half to one million involuntarily displaced Syrians not registered as refugees, which taken together make up between 25-40 per cent of the Lebanese population.
[This article is published in Oasis no. 24. To read all the contents buy a copy or subscribe]