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Institute, U.S. Holocaust Museum Event Addresses Syrian Refugee Crisis

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WASHINGTON, D.C. - The division among Western leaders over how to handle the Syrian exodus – and the civil war that caused it – was abundantly clear when dozens of young policy professionals joined together at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for a high-level panel discussion initiated by the Institute’s LINK program.

Philipp Ackermann, the deputy chief of mission at the German Embassy, said that while he was proud of his country’s acceptance of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, he would not advocate a military response to end the Syrian conflict. Ackermann, the second-ranking officer in his country’s Washington mission, cited the chaos in Iraq and Libya as examples of military actions gone wrong.

The Institute’s Kaufman Fellow, David Pollock, who has visited with Syrian refugees in Turkey, countered that many crises have been solved with military intervention – including World War II.

CBS television reporter Margaret Brennan agreed, asserting that the Western response to the Syrian emigration crisis has only addressed the symptom of the problem and not its cause.

As a former Syrian diplomat, Bassam Barabandi provided an insider’s account of the regime’s decision-making. Barabandi, who defected to form the People Demand Change organization, said that the only time Assad has feared Western reaction was when the U.S. was poised to strike the country in response to the use of chemical weapons – an attack called off by President Obama.

Barabandi added that Syrians have despaired of finding any future in their country. And with the increased participation of Russia and Iran in the fighting, Syrians have no safe haven. The refugees are not going to Europe to find jobs, he said, they are running for their lives.


Beyond the Numbers: Inside the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Photos courtesy of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Institute’s LINK program, which is designed for young policy professionals, began planning the event last summer before the stream of refugees turned into an international crisis that overwhelmed Europe and shook continental unity. Panel moderator Cameron Hudson offered to partner with the Institute and host the program in his capacity as director of the museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide.

As winter closes in, refugees continue to march through Europe and host countries are struggling to integrate them into their communities. Diplomat Ackerman said that in Germany, which has accepted over 800,000 refugees this year, the problem is not an outbreak of terrorism, but rather teaching refugees to abide by local laws and customs. For example, officials need to explain that girls attend school with boys, that homosexuality is accepted, and that anti-Semitism is not tolerated.

The choice of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as a venue for the event was not lost on Ackermann. He said that he was pleased to represent his country in the museum 70 years after Germany was on “the wrong side” of the refugee question.

LINK, which stands for Learn, Inform, Network, and Know, enables young professionals to enhance their understanding of Middle East policy and advance their careers. In its first year of activity, it has hosted hundreds of young professionals from embassies, think tanks, consulting firms, Congress, media outlets, NGOs, and universities.