The U.N.’s refugee agency has confirmed that Turkey is holding back high-skilled refugees from accepting asylum offers in the United States. Politico.eu reports:
According to staff at agencies that handle resettlement cases, Turkey is preventing some Syrians from leaving the country on the basis of their educational credentials, as it works out plans to offer citizenship to Syrians.
A report last week said more than 1,000 Syrians slated to travel to the United States and other countries have been prevented from doing so because they have university degrees. As early as June, German media reported that at least 50 cases approved by Berlin were halted by Turkish authorities for similar reasons.[…]
A senior Turkish official said it would be incorrect to characterize Turkey’s actions as “preventing some Syrians from leaving,” and instead pointed to the U.N.’s own resettlement criteria, which gives priority to the most vulnerable people, like torture survivors and those with special medical needs.
“You aren’t supposed to cherry-pick candidates but focus on helping people,” he said.
American officials should not be too surprised: this is a move Turkey has pulled before when it came to its European refugee resettlement deal. It’s one we expect we’ll see more of. And while the hypocrisy of the Turkish official quoted here is egregious, it’s also hard to criticize, because both sides are guilty. Both the U.S. and the Turkish officials want simultaneously to talk about their high-minded, humanitarian motives in welcoming refugees and to assure their citizens they’re getting only the best and brightest, who will contribute to rather than detract from the national economy.
The scramble for those best and brightest is intensified by the fact that, as TAI Editor Adam Garfinkle has pointed out, there just aren’t that many high-skilled Syrians out there. Most of the Syrian refugees are normal, innocent people from a not particularly high-functioning economy—people who but for a horrific civil war would not generally be immigrating in great numbers, or in great demand as immigrants.
Ultimately, the squabble over the relatively few high-skill Syrians points to a deeper hypocrisy: the admission of a few tens of thousands of Syrians is a way to look away from the several million Syrians who are displaced and about whom the West intends to do nothing. Refugee negotiations are a small salve to the conscience, really a cynical ploy. So while the U.S. government should care about getting this fight right (in no small part because those more skilled Syrians are themselves more anxious to come to the U.S., as has been promised, then to stay in Turkey), let’s not pretend it’s much more than rearranging things on a small lifeboat as the Titanic sinks beneath the waves.