Syrian refugees in Lesbos, Greece, November 2017
Alkis Konstantinidis / Reuters

Syria’s 18 million people make up less than one percent of the world’s population, but a whopping one-third of all refugees are Syrian. Since 2011, more than 5.5 million people have fled the country and 6.1 million have been internally displaced. Syria’s neighbors have borne the brunt of the crisis: there are 3.3 million registered refugees in Turkey, one million in Lebanon, and 650,000 in Jordan. Another half million Syrian refugees now reside in Europe. (Canada and the United States have taken in approximately 50,000 and 18,000, respectively.)

These refugee flows have destabilized other countries in the region, reshaped global asylum and migration policies, and fueled a populist backlash in the West that has undermined liberal democracy. And so it may be no surprise that most international discussions about the future of Syrian refugee populations settle on a simple solution: sending them back to Syria once the conflict is over. The various peace negotiations under

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  • MAHA YAHYA is director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, where her work focuses on the political, social, and economic implications of migration and the refugee crisis.
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