Syrian refugees could help America

Thousands of Syrians are fleeing their war-torn country in the hopes of securing safety and asylum in Europe or the United States. All too often, their desperate journey results in more suffering and struggle.

At least 2,000 Syrians have drowned in their attempt to reach Europe since the civil war began in 2011; at least 3,000, including many Libyans, Afghans and other Africans are in one Greek refugee camp on the island of Lesbos, with other camps popping up.

The United States and European governments need to do a lot less to alleviate these problems. Yes, you read that right. The problem isn’t that the United States and European governments aren’t doing enough to help Syrians — they’re doing much too much to block them from coming here. We should stop. Unless there is a legitimate security, criminal or health concern, we should let the Syrians in.

When refugees trying to save themselves are stopped by governments using their own resources, those governments bear part of the blame for the often tragic and heart-rending results. If you try to flee from a murderer and a third person breaks your legs so you can’t run away, that third person bears some of the responsibility for your fate.

And Europe isn’t the only one bearing some of the responsibility for the fate of refugees. The United States has accepted a measly 1,000 Syrian refugees — fewer than Brazil — and has committed to accepting 8,000 eventually. Why aren’t we accepting more?

The most common worry is that refugees will consume welfare and be a burden on American taxpayers. Fine, cancel welfare for them and admit more.

As a first step, we should let individual Americans and charities sponsor refugees without any quota. When Iceland’s government only wanted to admit 50 Syrian refugees, 11,000 Icelandic citizens offered to share their homes. In response, the government is reconsidering its quota.

Americans gave more than $350 billion to private charities in 2014 — $1,100 per American and the generous in the world. It’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t be willing to aid refugees in their new life here. If only the government would let them.

There are more than 150,000 Americans of Syrian descent, with a median household income of more than $65,000, compared to about $53,000 for native-born Americans. They can help ease Syrian refugees into life in the United States either through charity or job opportunities.

Citizens in Western governments don’t have a duty to help refugees but we have a duty to stop hurting them. Our immigration restrictions are making a humanitarian catastrophe even worse by preventing them from saving their own lives. Let’s get out of the way and let them do that while empowering those among us to voluntarily lend a helping hand.

Alex Nowrasteh is an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. Send comments to