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Discussion: Syrian refugee crisis in context

Nobel Women's Initiative
Photo: Nobel Women's Initiative

Since 2011, more than 4 million people have fled Syria to escape war and violence, and millions more have been internally displaced.

The Syrian refugee crisis gained worldwide attention last year as European countries were forced to deal with the rising influx of refugees. In the United States, we’ve seen a rise in anti-refugee rhetoric in communities across the country, and many policymakers are still calling for xenophobic measures that would shut the door on Syrian refugees.

On Jan. 27, AFSC staff members Raed Jarrar, Giovanna Negretti, and Layla Razavi joined Media Relations Director Alexis Moore for "Overwhelmed: Syrian refugee crisis in context," a live-streamed conversation about this issue. Here's a recap.

How did we get to this point?

Raed Jarrar, AFSC’s government relations manager, discusses events in Syria’s complex history that have led to the displacement of millions of people.

To address the root causes of the Syrian refugee crisis, the U.S. and others must first take several important steps, says Raed. That includes calling for an immediate ceasefire, implementing an arms embargo, and promoting diplomacy.


Families on the Syrian refugee trail

Giovanna Negretti, AFSC’s Middle East regional director, joined the Nobel Women’s Initiative to document the experiences of women and children fleeing Syria and seeking refuge in other countries. She shares her observations and interactions with the families she met.

Pushing back against xenophobia

In the U.S., many elected officials responded to the refugee crisis by proposing xenophobic measures, including legislation in Congress that would have effectively shut the door on Syrian refugees. Layla Razavi, AFSC’s director of Human Migration and Mobility, talks about how advocates can push back against hateful legislation.

Resettling refugees is "just the tip of the iceberg"

While it’s critical that refugees’ humanitarian needs are met, we must remember to focus on long-term solutions by working to address the root causes of the Syrian refugee crisis, says Raed.

Building social cohesion 

Giovanna, who is based in Amman, Jordan, talks about the challenges facing countries with large numbers of Syrian refugees and the need to build social cohesion.

Not just a Muslim issue

Layla discusses how all immigrants in the U.S. are affected by Islamophobia and why advocates should work together to counter such rhetoric.

The impact of U.S. military aid in the Middle East

More than 90 percent of U.S. military aid goes to the Middle East, says Raed. “We can’t really come up with amazing ideas for diplomacy while we’re dropping bombs on people’s homes."

What can people in the U.S. do in response to the crisis?

Raed encourages advocates to keep up the pressure on public officials to address the crisis. To stay up to date on ways to take action, sign up for advocacy alerts at

Giovanna urges people to continue to press their elected officials to end military intervention in Syria and to welcome refugees.

Speak up against xenophobia in your own town, says Layla. Letters to the editor are an effective way to get the attention of local officials.


More: Watch the full video "Overwhelmed: Syrian refugee crisis in context.