Amb. Bellamy Talks About The Global Migration And Refugee Crisis

February 15, 2016

William Mark Bellamy

On February 23rd, the Warburg Program will welcome four experts to speak on the Warburg panel, "The Global Migration and Refugee Crisis," moderated by Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy.

We spoke with him about the refugee crisis, the ethics of migration, and the benefits of attending the Warburg panel.

In November, you spoke to the Simmons Community after the attacks in Paris and warned that anti-refugee rhetoric was likely to increase as we headed towards the primaries. How (or have) you seen the political rhetoric regarding refugees change since then?

The rhetoric has cooled as refugee flows have ebbed and no other major terrorist attacks occurred in Western capitals. But we can expect another upsurge of fear-mongering when migrant flows resume or after the next terrorist attack. Many politicians, including most of the Republican presidential candidates, were quick to misrepresent the refugee crisis, in Donald Trump’s case grotesquely so. As a result, many Americans are ill-informed, confused or frightened. Responsible leadership requires at least a modicum of honest, factual argumentation from our political elites. Unfortunately, there is little prospect of that in the coming months.

The US has agreed to take 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. What factors might the US government consider when they decide how many people to allow into the country?

All nations must factor in the enormity of the crisis when deciding how many refugees to admit. The American quota of 10,000 is small compared to Canada’s 25,000 or France’s 30,000, or the millions sheltering in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Keep in mind that the US is luckier than Europe or the Middle East. We do not have great surges of Syrian asylum seekers on our territory. We can carefully screen, one-by-one, those to be resettled in the US while they are still in refugee centers overseas. That greatly reduces the risk of bad actors gaining admittance.

Germany has taken in over one million refugees during 2015, and Chancellor Merkel has commented that, “Now all of a sudden we are facing the challenge that refugees are coming to Europe and we are vulnerable, as we see, because we do not yet have the order, the control, that we would like to have.” What should the US be learning from Germany, and how might Germany’s experience change or shape the policy of other EU countries?

Angela Merkel made a brave decision and may suffer politically for it. She hoped Germany could set an example. But most of Europe refused to follow. If the burden were shared, both within Europe and internationally, pressures on Germany and other recipient nations would be manageable. But the international community has thus far failed in this task, just as it has failed to address the root cause which is the ongoing horror show in Syria.

Casey Mulligan, Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, proposed an immigration fee for the United States during a recent Freakonomics podcast, “Is Migration a Basic Human Right?” As a nation of immigrants, do we have an ethical obligation to accept refugees free of charge? What do you say to those that worry that our economy isn’t strong enough to support an influx of refugees?

I’ve not heard the podcast. The costs of refugee admissions are not an issue. Settling 10,000 Syrian immigrants in the US costs only a fraction of what we are donating to international organizations managing this crisis in the region. As for immigrants, they already pay fees to obtain visas and settle in the US. But refugees are not immigrants. They are asylum seekers. They are not migrating to improve their financial situation, they are literally fleeing for their lives. They will — and do— pay whatever little they have find refuge. Should we be trying to generate revenue from this tragedy?

The Warburg Panel on February 23rd consists of three experts from Boston University and Northeastern University, as well as the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migrations at the U.S. Department of State. Why is it important for the Simmons College community to hear from our Warburg Panel, as well as from the news media?

Many in our community are disturbed not only by the human suffering but also by the political consequences that flow from it. Sudden, huge migrations can destabilize societies, stress governments, and trigger wider conflict. So the issue at hand is not only a humanitarian one, but a very important political and geo-strategic one as well. My hope is that our Warburg panel will generate a better understanding in our audience of the different dimensions of this complex global crisis.

On February 23rd, the Warburg Program will welcome Simon Henshaw (Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, U.S. Department of State), Noora Lori (Boston University) Kaija Schilde (Boston University) and Denis Sullivan (Northeastern University) for the panel The Global Migration and Refugee Crisis, moderated by Ambassador (ret.) William M. Bellamy.