The Conference on the Middle East Migration Crisis: Genesis and Response hosted by Initiatives of Change and the Next Century Foundation offered an analysis of the current situation in Syria and potential solutions. The speakers in this session included Adel Darwish, Ammar Waqqaf, Dawn Chatty, Siwar Al-Assad, Yussef Anwar, and Jonathan Mueller.
The situation in Syria is one which is pertinent both to the migration crisis and to the fight against ISIS. Migration out of Syria has had a huge impact on Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. Many Syrians do not want to cross the border for fear of not being able to return home; but remaining in the bordering countries gives them the best probability of returning home when it becomes safe to do so. Refugee camps in the bordering countries are far from perfect; once in a Jordanian camp a refugee is not permitted to leave. Many Turkish camps provide good healthcare and services, but there is a waiting list. In both Turkey and Jordan, only a small percentage of the refugees are in the camps, and Lebanon does not have any refugee camps but has accepted a staggering number of refugees; it would be as if the United Kingdom accepted 20 million people.
Within Syria, an issue was raised about describing the conflict as sectarian. According to Siwar Al-Assad, the Sunni versus Shia war is a myth. If the war was about sectarianism, the state would have collapsed within six months or a year. In fact, Sunnis have actually intervened on several occasions to protect minorities, claimed Siwar. This is an important clarification to make as it drastically affects the potential political solutions. A second issue was raised about the possibility Syria might be partitioned. Ammar Waqqaf claimed that this solution is not an option because people still view themselves as being part of Syria, and the minority groups cannot have viable states.
Several solutions to the situation in Syria were offered. First, there needs to be a focus on giving young people hope and education. If people have hope for their country, they will be less likely to leave it. Second, the United States needs to be involved in a way which does not cause further conflict with Russia. It is important that the United States collaborate with Russia without reference to the New Cold War or the Ukraine Crisis. Third, there needs to be more dialogue. According to Siwar al-Assad, President Bashar al-Assad has indicated that he is willing to negotiate. It is the Muslim Brotherhood-led coalition which has yet to drop its preconditions to negotiation. Fourth, we need to stop worrying about housing and benefits for refugees here in the West, but treat them as migrants and allow them to work. Finally, Syria needs to find leadership which can command the trust of its citizens. This may be the most difficult aspect of the solution, but is absolutely critical to insure that government institutions do not suffer further damage.