Separating Fact From Fiction – By Foreign Affairs
22 March 2017 – By Max Abrahms, Denis Sullivan, and Charles Simpson – The Syrian refugee crisis is the worst human security disaster of the twenty-first century. Beyond the death toll, which stands at around 400,000, an estimated 11 million Syrians—about half the national population—have fled their homes since the beginning of the conflict in March 2011. Prior to the evacuation of eastern Aleppo in late 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that over six million Syrians were displaced inside the country; about five million refugees have fled to nearby Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey; and nearly a million more have requested asylum in Europe, mostly in Germany. This crisis is not only a matter of life and death for millions of Syrians but is consequential to Syria’s immediate neighbors and to much of the rest of the world.
Yet a lack of direct evidence from the field has spawned speculation, misinformation, and poorly informed policymaking. In response to this informational deficit, a seven-person research team from Northeastern University was deployed along the western Balkan migration route into Europe (see map below) to speak with Syrian migrants, learn how and why they have left their country, and study the consequences of their migration to themselves and to Europe. Members of the research team spoke Arabic, were natives of or had spent substantial time in the countries in which they operated, and had been trained to interact with vulnerable migrant communities.
Unlike previous studies, which have relied on questionnaires in a single country such as Lebanon or Germany, our team conducted detailed, comprehensive interviews in numerous locations along the Balkan route, albeit with a smaller number of refugees. The interviews, done mainly during the summers of 2015 and 2016, were conducted at refugee camps, border crossings, checkpoints, cities, and smuggler boat launch sites in departure countries (Jordan, Turkey), transit countries (Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Macedonia, Serbia), and destination countries (Belgium, Germany).
Our sample of 130 Syrian refugees does not purport to be representative, but it
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