Christian groups divided over 'safe zones' for Syrian refugees [CNA]


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Washington D.C., Feb 11, 2017 / 04:33 pm (CNA).- After President Donald Trump pushed for the creation of safe zones for refugees in the Middle East, advocates and humanitarian aid groups are divided over whether the policy will work.

“We think it’s within the United States’ national security interests to support the creation of safe zones to at least stop the exodus of people leaving Syria and move that conflict more toward a resolution which is favorable to Christians,” Phillippe Nassif, executive director of the group In Defense of Christians, told CNA of Trump’s proposal.

However, Bill O’Keefe, vice president of government relations and advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, said that “the Syrian conflict is such a hornet’s nest of proxy wars, and to think that in the midst of that a safe zone will be safe indefinitely is just unlikely.”

President Trump was expected to call for the establishment of safe zones in the Middle East in his recent executive order that halted U.S. refugee admissions, but that policy was left out of the final draft of the order.

Nevertheless, Trump has reportedly discussed setting up safe zones in Syria and Yemen with regional leaders, the King of Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“Safe zones” would be areas set up in the war-torn countries for various innocent persons displaced by the conflict to live in security as they wait to return home.

They would require “troops on the ground and a no-fly zone” to maintain security, Nassif explained. They wouldn’t exclusively be set up in rural areas, but could be placed on fertile land or in urban areas to provide economic incentives for the population and even return displaced persons to their homes.

The Syrian conflict between President Bashar al-Assad and rebel factions has lasted for almost six years with the death toll in the hundreds of thousands. It has created the world’s largest refugee crisis, with around five million refugees having fled the country and over six million displaced persons living within the country’s borders.

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