Like Syrians now, my family fled Liberia as refugees. Unlike Syrians, America welcomed us.

By Saliho Touré, USA Today
September 4, 2019

The unthinkable might be coming true: The Trump administration is considering cutting the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program to close to zero, sources told Politico this summer. As someone who came to the United States as a refugee of Liberia’s civil war, I understand that, for many, legal immigration status means the difference between life and death.

Violence followed my parents as they fled a devastating war in Liberia in late 1989 and 1990. My family only felt that we found true safety years later in the United States. The same is true for many others who have fled violence, including Syrians. As in Liberia, the solution to the Syrian refugee crisis is not to close the door to people who are fleeing to the United States, but to directly tackle the problem giving them no other option but to run.

I am an American, but before that I was a refugee. My family lost so much to the brutal civil war in Liberia, including my dad’s chicken farm and my mom’s medical clinic. The one thing we had left was our wish to survive. My parents fled from Liberia to Sierra Leone and then to Guinea, where I was born. Finally arriving in the United States in 2007 gave my parents hope to work hard and build new lives as Americans. Without the fear of violence, my siblings and I had a chance to flourish, becoming pharmacists, biomedical engineers and, in my case, a student and aspiring U.S. diplomat.

Yet the international community’s mishandling of Liberia’s crisis (echoes of which I see today in Syria) has made it impossible for us to go home. In allowing the civil war to rage and failing to act immediately to stop war criminals like former Liberian President Charles Taylor, the international community effectively gave permission for mass atrocities to be perpetrated against families like my own.

History repeats itself in Syria

In Liberia in the early 1990s, 800,000 people fled the country and 1 million people — 1 in 5 of the country’s population — were left homeless. Liberia may hold insights into Syria’s future: The longer it takes for the international community to intervene, the larger the war’s footprint will be on Syria, and the higher the death toll of innocent civilians will become.

The people of Syria need our help. President Bashar al-Assad brutally cracked down on protesters in March 2011. At least 560,000 people have been killed in the eight years since the conflict began, including 1,864 civilians in the first half of this year alone, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights.

Further, it has driven 5.6 million people to flee Syria, plus an additional 6.6 million who are internally displaced from their homes inside the country. Most critically, a whole generation of children has grown up only knowing war.

The White House has also made clear the conflict’s implications for the region: “The regime’s brutality and repression of the Syrian people, who have been calling for freedom and a representative government, not only endangers the Syrian people themselves, but also generates instability throughout the region.”

Now is not the time to turn our back to the people of Syria, not when they need us the most. The Trump administration has taken ad hoc steps — like responding to Assad’s use of chemical weapons — to protect civilians, but efforts have failed to achieve any comprehensive resolution. We must stand against those who threaten democracy and human rights, and we must protect those who have no other option but to flee from tyrannical regimes.

Solve the causes of Syria’s crisis

If America hadn’t opened her arms to me, my life would have been drastically different. That’s why I can only imagine how Syria’s 5.6 million refugees feel, who constantly fear targeting by those most responsible for the war: Assad, Iran and Russia. Even though Syria’s crisis greatly contributes to the largest refugee crisis since World War II, last year, the Trump administration allowed a mere 62 Syrian refugees into the United States.

President Trump shouldn’t even consider ending the refugee program until he first addresses the core of the problems causing people to flee. In Syria, it is Assad’s violence against civilians. In doing so, Syria can finally heal and once again become a safe and nurturing home for returning Syrians.

Not only must the war end, but, as with Charles Taylor in Liberia, the war’s perpetrators must be brought to justice. Only then will future perpetrators be deterred, and Syrians feel safe to return. The question is: Will the United States and its allies respect the vow of “never again” we took after the Holocaust, after Rwanda, after Srebrenica? In Syria, will we finally learn the lesson and act before we reach the “again” moment?

Saliho Touré is a junior at American University and a fellow at Americans for a Free Syria. Follow him on Twitter @ToureSaliho