- - Tuesday, November 24, 2015


The international community just celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Dayton Accords, a landmark peace agreement that brought an end to the Bosnian War and a grave humanitarian crisis in the Balkans.

Today, relative peace still exists in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Croatia — and this situation offers valuable lessons that can be applied to one of the biggest humanitarian problems of our time.

The Syrian refugee and migration crisis is overwhelming the mechanisms set up by the international community to deal with such movements. European countries are caught between their instincts to offer safety and help to desperate people, and their inability to meet the needs of an unmanageable flood of migrants.

The migration, with no apparent end in sight, also has brought growing political pressure from disgruntled populations themselves displaced by waves of migrants. This threatens increased radicalism and political instability throughout Europe. And most importantly, we must assume that uncontrolled movement of hundreds of thousands of people from the Middle East will pose a growing security threat as jihadists take advantage of the movement and hide among them.

That is a threat that we Americans also must address.

The only reasonable alternative to dealing with this disaster is to create the conditions in and near Syria that will permit people to remain there, in humane conditions of relative safety near their home country, within their own culture.

Achieving this will require the United States, our allies and other cooperating powers to create areas in and near Syria where Syrians can find safety from attack.

As difficult as this task sounds — and surely it is — it has been done before.

When Yugoslavia collapsed in 1993, modern, well-equipped armies clashed in open prolonged warfare, involving sieges of towns and cities, generating hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of refugees and displaced persons. In this, as in the current situation in Syria, violence was pervasive and inescapable.

Yet into that horror stepped the international community’s relief organizations, led by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. That organization, backed by a U.N. mandate and protected first by the U.N. Protection Force and then NATO, created safe areas for refugees and internally displaced persons, and sheltered and fed millions of Bosnians. Despite some tragic failures (the “safe area” of Srebrenica where thousands of Bosnians were slaughtered as the protectors looked on), this massive international effort to address Bosnia’s humanitarian catastrophe was an important contribution to successful efforts to end that war.

The Bosnia precedent included two essential components — the U.N. Security Council and NATO. It is remarkable that in the current crisis neither organization has devoted much attention — or any action — to addressing Syria’s humanitarian needs.

Unfortunately, the Syrian humanitarian tragedy has not generated this sort of attention and action. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are already doing their utmost to care for millions of refugees, largely relying on their own resources. Germany and other countries have opened their doors to refugees but the political and economic costs are clearly unsustainable. Clearly, a better alternative needs to be proposed.

To finally address those needs effectively, we need a massive commitment from the world community to set up, fund and manage humane safe areas both within Syria and in neighboring countries.

This will require, first, a mandate from the U.N. Security Council, unleashing the U.N. High Commission for Refugees and other international resources experienced in humanitarian relief. This will also require either a new protection force such as the U.N. Protection Force in the Bosnia precedent, or some other coalition of the willing empowered to protect the people in the safe areas established in Syria itself.

Second, protecting these areas in Syria will require no-fly zones. I have suggested that, with its planning and leadership capabilities and massive resources, NATO should take on that job. NATO did it in Bosnia — why not Syria? At the same time, NATO must work creatively to bring in the regional powers in a broad coordinated effort under NATO leadership.

Third, the international community must be willing to pay for this important humanitarian effort. We should call for major contributions from the regional states, European countries and other traditional donor countries long committed to humanitarian causes.

Dealing with so many refugees in safe, humane conditions will be expensive, but it can be no more expensive than the costs already being born by those destination countries burdened with uncontrolled migration. Germany estimates that the cost of the refugee crisis this year in Germany alone is 21 billion euros. Italy spent 628 million euros in 2014 and has budgeted 800 million for 2015. Individual islands in Greece have spent between 1 billion and 1.5 billion euros this year. The EU has allocated 560 million euros for the crisis.

In that context, the billions necessary to enable the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, the International Committee of the Red Cross and others to care for these desperate people humanely, in conditions of safety, in or near their own homeland, are easily justified.

And the extra security gained by such a solution is beyond a price.

Dan Coats is a Republican member of the U.S. Senate from Indiana.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide