Resolved: European nations should admit all refugees from Syria without restrictions

November 2, 2015

Affirmative: Wooyoung Lee

  • Europe has historical and political responsibility to take in refugees
  • Europe has capacity to take in refugees
  • Refugees would be economic benefit

Negative: Sean Conway

  • Countries have right to turn away refugees
  • Refugees may include terrorists
  • Refugees harmful to economy
  • Alternatives exist

General points of discussion

  • Can Europe handle all refugees?
  • Is Europe a suitable environment for refugees?

Initial vote: 10 affirmative, 6 negative, 10 abstain

Final vote: 16 affirmative, 11 negative, 6 abstain

As Europeans grapple with the Syrian refugee crisis, the Political Union did likewise. Wooyoung Lee began by noting that the resolution did not preclude efforts by the United States and other developed nations but argued that the European Union, as a global leader and in accordance with its founding mission, had a responsibility to take in suffering refugees. He added that European claims about having reached capacity were overblown and that refugees would provide a slight economic benefit.

Sean Conway asserted each nation’s right to turn away refugees. He claimed that the possibility of terrorists among the refugees was too great and that refugees would only exacerbate Europe’s poor economic climate. He then presented alternatives: sending humanitarian aid to the Middle East, calling on the US to do more, and setting restrictions on the number of refugees allowed into Europe.

Co-president Karna Nangia suggested that as European actions had been part of the cause for the current crisis, Europe had to help fix its mistakes by accepting refugees. Several other participants expressed their belief in Europe’s obligation to take in refugees but expressed doubt about whether Europe could or should take in all refugees. Mr. Conway emphasized the latter point and brought up the example of Germany.

The debate took a brief pause as the main debaters and Speaker Aaron Gordon defined some ambiguous terms. Restrictions were taken to mean quantitative ones (meaning that preventing a known terrorist from entering would not be considered a restriction) and Europe referred to the European Union as a whole, rather than individual countries.

A new argument surfaced shortly after, which was that Syrians should be asked to stay in Syria for their country’s sake; but most of the discussion thereafter centered on Europe, not Syria. Co-president Alexi Stocker and Henry Cao contended that the rise of anti-immigrant parties and racist sentiments in Europe made the continent an unsuitable environment for refugees. Mr. Cao worried that historically, most refugees do not return to their country of origin and that Europe should focus on ameliorating the conflict in Syria (and thus compelling would-be refugees to stay). Mr. Stocker also believed that the involvement of other states was a superior solution, suggesting that Gulf states would provide a more culturally appropriate setting for Syrians.

These arguments quickly drew sharp reactions. One debater criticized the idea of anti-immigrant parties as making Europe unsafe as circular in its reasoning, since such parties had only risen in response to immigrants. Sabrina Williams noted that most refugees had already left Syria and the Middle East, and that while racism could pose a problem, it would still be milder than discrimination and persecution in the Middle East. Another participant pointed out that such far-right sentiments represented a small portion of the European electorate and that all immigrants had faced racism. Mr. Lee emphasized the latter point; he characterized Mr. Stocker’s argument as patronizing and compared it to post-Civil War efforts to send former slaves back to Africa for their sake. He argued that by Mr. Stocker’s logic, almost no immigrants at any point in history should have been let into the United States. He also brought up empirics on the economic benefits of refugees and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s statement that Germany  had the capacity to take in all refugees.

Mr. Stocker fought back, emphasizing the welfare of Europeans and stating that European lives should not be disrupted for Syrians’ sake; he also expressed doubt about whether Europe’s economy could handle such a large influx of people, bringing up the example of a small German village faced with an overwhelming number of refugees. Mr. Cao argued that European culture was incompatible with a massive influx of refugees and that European quality of life would be improved with quotas on refugees.

With tensions at a relative high, the opening speakers each gave a closing statement. Mr. Lee emphasized moral responsibility, the economic benefits of refugees, and criticisms of Mr. Stocker’s arguments. Mr. Conway focused on possible security concerns with refugees and the economic hardships that Europeans are facing. In the end, both sides made near-identical claims as the affirmative side maintained its advantage and carried the day.