New Jersey Herald: Local Opinion: Waves of refugees: Why we need a "complete' plan for the Middle East


By Rodney Frelinghuysen

For decades, the Middle East has been the scene of a horrendous human suffering. However, there is another "slow motion" humanitarian disaster unfolding there, beyond the gaze of the media and the general public: Millions upon millions of residents fleeing to escape rampant sectarian violence in their home countries, including a civil war in Syria that has claimed over a quarter-million lives, Christians and Muslims alike.

The numbers are staggering. On average, 42,500 people were displaced every day in 2014.

About 7.6 million Syrians are taking to the road within their own country, and 3.88 million have become refugees. They have fled to neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Egypt, putting incredible pressure on the resources, infrastructure and economy of these host nations, leading to political instability. In fact, this month, the U.N. named Syria the largest global source of refugees, replacing Afghanistan, which had led the world for 30 years.

But the Syrian slaughter is not the only source of the refugee tide in the Middle East. According to the International Organization for Migration, 2.4 million persons have fled their homes in Iraq due to pressure or fear of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al Qaeda and the Syrian military. Another 200,000 men, women and children left the country altogether.

While conflicts in Afghanistan, Yemen and various regions in Africa have been major sources of displacement, the Mediterranean seems to be the new focal point of a growing human tide as residents escape brutal sectarian violence by boat, by raft or by "zombie ships," abandoned by their crews. Increasing numbers of Africans are fleeing through lawless Libya and onto the Mediterranean Sea for a dangerous passage to Europe.

On a recent weekend, the Italian Coast Guard reported pulling 700 migrants off deflating rafts in the Mediterranean Sea. A few weeks before that, coast guardsmen plucked 274 migrants from a ship in the Mediterranean, just a day after another 300 rescued people arrived in a port in Sicily. And then there have been stories of Christians being singled out and hurled overboard other boats and rafts.

When it chooses to report, the media refers to the victims of these tragedies as "migrants," but let us face facts: These desperate people are casualties from intolerant religious violence, unrelenting civil wars and an explosion of terrorism. Many are subject to horrific abuse, including sexual and other forms of human trafficking.

Confronting recent tragedies, European leaders say they will take strong new measures to halt the flow of refugees, cracking down on smugglers' boats before they leave port, rather than on the high seas.

This plan of action, if fully implemented, may save some lives in the coming months. But the real solution must be to diminish the conditions that led these refugees to flee in the first place.

In Syria, the Obama Administration still insists its goal is to remove Assad, but we have done little to change conditions on the ground. In Iraq, we have sent a limited number of military advisers under constrained rules of engagement. The results have been predictably weak. Nothing we have done has stemmed the tide of fleeing men, women and children

Tragically, the Obama Administration has shown no inclination to develop a "complete" plan with our allies to dampen the Islamist and sectarian violence that are tearing the Middle East and Mediterranean apart.

While the United States and our partners hesitate and vacillate, we may be on the verge of a dangerous new age of mass displacement -- an age that threatens even more conflict and more human suffering.