Arab American News: Sen. Peters: The U.S. should do its part to help refugees

DEARBORN — After witnessing the hopelessness at Jordan's Zaatari refugee camp, the temporary home of 80,000 Syrians, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich), believes the United States should come to the aid of the struggling people of Syria.

"It was quite an intense experience — one that made it very clear to me that the United States needs to do its part to help Syrian refugees," Peters told The Arab American News in a phone interview.

The Obama Administration announced Monday that the United States will increase humanitarian aid to displaced Syrians to $419 million. Peters said he was heartened by the decision but added that the government should also help by taking in more asylum seekers.

The White House announced earlier this month that the United States will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, but the senator believes the government can do more.

"I believe the 10,000 number is inadequate; we need to have a larger number," he said.

Peters, a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, returned two weeks ago from an official Mideast trip where he visited Iraq, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

He said the living conditions in Zaatari's makeshift homes are tough.

"People are out in a barren, desert-type area, and not a whole lot of amenities," Peters said.

The senator said residents of the camp are offered food vouchers worth about 50 cents per person daily.
"You can't get a whole lot of food for 50 cents, so there were concerns from the workers that I talked to about the variety of the diet and nutrition that people are getting," Peters added.

But what the senator found most disturbing is not the lack of resources, but the abundance of despair among refugees.

"They basically have no hope," Peters said of the refugees he met. "They don't know when they're ever going to leave the camp. They don't see a solution inside [their country]. They can't work... They have no idea when they're going to return home."

The senator said the refugees at Zaatari are grateful for the U.S. humanitarian efforts.

"We need to get our partners to contribute," Peters said. "That means Gulf countries have to provide more aid, as well as the Europeans."

The senator added that the refugees' priority is not to immigrate to the West but to return to their homeland.

"Their number one interest is not to go to the United States or to Europe or anywhere else," he said. "Their number one interest is to go home. They want to go home. They want to see a stable political situation, and they are hoping the United States would do more to bring stability to the region and to Syria, so that they can go home."

Several Republican members of the House and the Senate warned against accepting large numbers of Syrian asylum seekers because of national security concerns.

But Peters told The Arab American News that vetting applicants and examining their background before allowing them entry to America is "not something new to the United States government."

"Before folks are granted refugee status, there is a process they go through to make sure they are not a threat and that they have legitimate claims related to their refugee status — that it would be dangerous for them to return to their home country," the senator explained. "That process needs to go forward. That is a limiting factor because of the time it takes to do the background check, but it is important to do that."

"A political solution"

The recent weeks have seen Russia intensify its military support to the Syrian government, while the Obama administration has been calling on President Bashar Assad to leave since 2012.

The administration has expressed concerns about Russia's increased backing to the Syrian government, which included weapon shipments and reports of military presence on the ground.

But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told CBS News last week that the United States does not really want the Syrian president to fall.

"I think it is the opinion of the administration that Assad needs to resign. He needs to leave,"
Peters said in response to Churkin's remarks. "That continues to be the goal of the government."

However, he added that the situation in Syria is complicated, and Assad is not the only problem. "There is a civil war related to that. Also, there's ISIS, and they're in command of large pasts of Syria and Iraq."

Peters said a solution to the Syrian crisis cannot be solved by force.

"The military aspect of it is to stabilize some of the lines," he said. "But ultimately, it has be a political solution, where you have a legitimate government in Syria that is committed to protect all of its people, regardless of their background, who they are and where they live."

By:  Ali Harb
Source: Arab American News