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MLA Full: "Understanding the Refugee Crisis in Europe, Syria, and around the World." YouTube, uploaded by vlogbrothers, 8 September 2015,
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APA Full: vlogbrothers. (2015, September 8). Understanding the Refugee Crisis in Europe, Syria, and around the World [Video]. YouTube.
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In which John Green discusses the Syrian refugee crisis and the growing number of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea crossing the sea with the help of smugglers to seek refuge in European Union nations.

Also discussed: The difference between migrants and refugees, the rights of refugees as established by international law, the globalization of all regional crises, and how the death of 3-year-old Alan Kurdi galvanized the world.



Save the Children fundraiser created by author Patrick Ness:


Most of the stats and graphs in this video came from the United Nations' High Commission on Refugees:

Overview of the EU's struggle with migrants and refugees from the BBC:

Another overview from the Independent:

An incredibly complicated guide to whose supporting whom in the Syrian Civil War:

Immigrants to the U.S. are less likely to commit crimes than other Americans:

Understanding the difference between migrants and refugees, and the legal obligations we have to refugees:

The UNHCR maps a plan forward from Europe that I quote from extensively:

The 1951 Refugee Convention that I mistakenly called a Commission in the video:

Information about the horrifying human rights abuses by Eritrea's government: and

Yes, Bashar al Assad's government in Syria has tortured children and used chemical weapons: and (Link contains explicit images of death)

Joseph Stalin probably never said that thing about one death being a tragedy and a thousand (or million) deaths being a statistic, but I quoted it the way a Soviet historian did:

Thanks as always to Rosianna Halse Rojas (, whose data-gathering and fact-checking made this video possible. If you read the entire dooblydoo, you get a gold star.

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John: Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday.

I wanna talk today about the refugee crisis going on around the world but let's begin with an old saying often attributed to that great expert in the field of human evil, Joseph Stalin. "When one man dies, that's a tragedy. When thousands die, that's a statistic."

Large numbers can feel cold and distant and even kind of comforting because they don't feel like people. And I think that's one of the reasons much of the world was able to ignore the years old Syrian refugee crisis until recently. But then, after thousands of refugees died this year trying to get to Europe, one three year old boy's body washed ashore in Turkey. His name was Aylan Kurdi, and he drowned with his five year old brother and his mom trying to get to Greece.

His father, Abdullah, survived and has now has returned to Syria to bury his wife and children. In fact, when offered the opportunity to resettle in another country Abdullah said, "Now I don't want anything. What was precious is gone."

To talk about the refugee crisis, we need statistics, but let us not forget what is precious. So for the past four and a half years, there has been a horrific civil war in Syria, which began with the hope of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Several dictatorships were toppled during the Arab Spring, although, some have since ended up with new dictators. But in Syria, long reigning dictator Bashar al-Assad has refused to relinquish power and instead has battled the rebellion with astonishing violence, including torturing children, and gassing his own people with chemical weapons.

So, back in 2011, Syria had a population of 22.4 million people. Here's what it looks like today. More than 250,000 people have been killed, about 10.6 million Syrians, less than half the population, still live in their homes, 7.6 million people have been forced to flee within Syria, either moving to refugee camps or to areas that are for the moment safer, and another 4 million Syrians have left the country entirely.

Of those people, about 1.6 million currently live in Turkey; there are about a million each in Lebanon and Jordan, and there are a few hundred thousand more in Iraq and Egypt. Ninety-five percent of Syrian refugees live in those countries and they have been stretched incredibly thin by this refugee crisis. Jordan's population is now 25% refugees. You've probably seen the huge sprawling camps in Jordan and Lebanon for refugees.

And everything is completely underfunded, because the UN's Refugee Agency doesn't have nearly enough money to deal with this number of refugees. And in Turkey, most refugees live in kind of a legal limbo outside of camps, because Turkey doesn't expel them, but they also aren't allowed to work.

So even though many Syrians have good educations and labor skills, they can't make a living, and so in search of lasting refuge, thousands have turned to Europe. And they pay smugglers thousands of Euros to get them via boat from Turkey, Morocco, or Egypt, to Malta, southern Italy, or Greece's southern islands.

Those smugglers are essentially the only people benefiting from Europe's inconsistent, inhumane, and disorganized response to the refugee crisis. To quote the UN's High Commissioner on Refugees, "More effective international cooperation is required to crack down on smugglers, including those operating inside the EU, but in ways that allow for the victims to be protected. But none of these efforts will be effective without opening up more opportunities for people to come legally to Europe and find safety upon arrival."

And that leads us to a very important distinction between the words migrant and refugee. This has often been called a migrant crisis, but it really isn't, because migrants choose to leave their homes in search of better education, or employment opportunities. Refugees, to again quote the UN HCR "are persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. These are people for whom the denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences."

And ever since the 1951 Refugee Commission, refugees have had certain rights under international law. These include the right not to be returned to their country of origin if their safety cannot be assured, the right not to be penalized for entering a country illegally if they request asylum, and the rights to life, security, religious expression, primary education, free access to courts and equal treatment by taxing authorities.

If a migrant arrives illegally in the European Union, they can be turned around and, in most countries, sent home fairly quickly. But a refugee, and most of the people arriving in Europe right now are refugees, they have certain rights under international law that all of Europe, and basically all of the world, has agreed to for the last 65 years.

In short, European countries have no obligations to refugees, until those refugees arrive in Europe. But once a refugee is in your country, you have certain legal responsibilities to them and that's why the boat smuggling has continued.

European governments want to make it difficult for refugees to get to Europe. They benefit when the trip is dangerous. If it were made safe, or easy, there would be far more refugees coming to Europe. The real solution, to dramatically increase the number of refugees legally accepted through non-smuggling routes, like a quota system, well, that stuff's politically unpopular.

But until legal opportunities are available, the smuggling and deaths will continue. To again quote the UN HCR, "Thousands of refugee parents are risking the lives of their children on unsafe smuggling boats primarily because they have no [other] choice."

And this is true, not only for Syrians, because only about half the people seeking asylum through these sea routes are from Syria. Another 12% are from Afghanistan, which was the world's leading producer of refugees for 30 years, until Syria came along. Another 8% are from the northeast African nation of Eritrea, which has one of the worst human rights records on Earth. Its government has been sighted by the UN for executions, torture, forced labor and systemic rape by government officials.

So, about 70% of the people trying to get to Europe are from those three countries. Of course, there are also many migrants trying to get to Europe via these dangerous over water routes. But, most of the people we're hearing about on the news are refugees, and the distinction is incredibly important.

OK, so, we have this massive humanitarian crisis. Who's to blame? Pretty much everybody. I mean, the Assad regime definitely gets a lot of the blame, but so do Iran and Russia and China, who are providing direct, or indirect, support to that regime and doing very little about the resulting refugee crisis. The Arab states of the Gulf, although they've pledged financial support to Syrian refugees, have accepted zero. ZERO! refugees from Syria.

Australia's refugee record is truly abysmal, and possibly in violation of international law. Canada is accepting 30% fewer refugees than they were a decade ago. And the United States is to blame as well. We've accepted a tiny number of Syrian refugees, fewer for instance than Brazil.

And instead of talking seriously about how to address the refugee crisis, our immigration debate has become increasingly racist and irrational. For instance, you often hear in the US and Europe, that immigrants are disproportionately likely to commit crimes. But that's simply untrue. A huge body of data says that refugees and first generation immigrants to the United States commit crimes at a much lower rate than other Americans.

Okay. And then, there's Europe. The truth is the xenophobic responses to the refugee crisis seen from some European governments are just shameful. Like, when Hungary's Prime Minister says that they must keep Muslims out of Europe to "keep Europe Christian", he's not just denying the multi-cultural and multi-religious history of Europe; he's denying the international law that requires countries to protect and house refugees regardless of their religious beliefs.

Hank, when discussing refugees, I often hear "Well, it's not OUR problem", or "We have to take care of OUR people." But we are one species sharing one, profoundly, interconnected world, and humans, all humans, are OUR people. And when the oppressed and marginalized die because they are oppressed and marginalized, the powerful are at fault.

Three year old Aylan Kurdi would be alive today if his family had been welcomed by the European Union, or by Canada, or Australia, or the United States, or Brazil, or the list goes on and on. And I think the reason the world reacted so viscerally to that image of that dead boy on the beach is that instinctively, we all knew that his blood was on all of our hands.

We have legal obligations to refugees under international law, but we also have ethical obligations to them, because they are our people. In fact, one of the reasons we're in this mess to begin with, is that for too long we've labored under the delusion that regional crises have no global importance. Imagining any widespread human problem as belonging to someone else is catastrophically misguided. Like, an Ebola outbreak in Liberia is just a Liberian problem, right? Well, sure, until it's a Nigerian problem, and a German problem, and an American problem.

And as we've learned all too painfully, the Syrian civil war is not only a Syrian problem. I mean, for one thing, it's led to the growth of ISIS, a terrorist organization that kills not only Syrians and Iraqis, but Ethiopians and Americans and Brazilians and Koreans and Turks. And recently, these people in Europe, at train stations and at football games, have been promising that refugees are welcome.

It's a moving sight and an encouraging one and I hope that European governments respond in kind. But the hardest work is not in making the promise, it's in keeping it and this is going to be a long term, expensive, and complex challenge for the world.

And as the UN HCR has said, this massive flow of people will not stop until the root causes of their plight are addressed. The ultimate solution, the only ultimate solution, was outlined clearly for us by a thirteen year old Syrian refugee.

Refugee: "My message: Please help the Syrians. The Syrians need help now. You, you just stop the war, and we don't go, we don't uh, want to go to Europe. Just stop the war, the Syrian."

John: Until then Hank, until this war stops, we have a legal and moral obligation to provide safe harbor for this young man and others like him. And we also must provide financial support to the less developed countries, from Jordan to Pakistan to Iraq that are shouldering 90% of the world's refugee burden.

Hank, I have included links below to donate to the UN's refugee work, as well as Save the Children's refugee work. I will see you on Friday.