At a rally in Pennsylvania, President-elect Donald Trump revealed plans to establish “safe zones” in war-torn Syria to protect refugees from the violent conflict between Syrian government forces and rebels. In Hershey, Trump said, "When I look at what's going on in Syria, it's so sad … and we're going to help people." He was on his “thank you tour” that ended today with a visit to Orlando, Florida.
Referring to the oil kingdoms of the Arabian Peninsula, Trump said, "They have nothing but money." The countries involved could be Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, which have supported the insurgency against Syrian President Bashr al-Assad throughout the five-plus-year civil war. "We don't have money," Trump said. "We owe $20 trillion. I will get the Gulf states to give us lots of money, and we'll build and help build safe zones in Syria, so people can have a chance. So they can have a chance."
In the past, during his campaign, Trump said safe zones would keep Syrian refugees from seeking to emigrate to Europe or elsewhere. But this was the first time that he has advanced a possible solution involving American support since he started received classified intelligence briefings. Throughout the fractious war of six years, U.S. politicians and defense officials have discussed the feasibility of keeping Syrian refugees in-country instead of taking them to the U.S. or Europe. Trump said that the financial cost of the safe zones would not be borne by the United States but by wealthy oil-rich countries of the Arabian peninsula.
In October 2015, Trump put forward the idea of safe zones for displaced Syrians. "What they should do is, the countries should all get together, including the Gulf states, who have nothing but money, they should all get together and they should take a big swath of land in Syria and they do a safe zone for people, where they could go to live, and then ultimately go back to their country, go back to where they came from," he told CBS. In November 2015, he told a rally in Knoxville TN, “What I'd like is to build a safe zone in Syria," he said. "Build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is so people can live, and they’ll be happier ... So you keep them in Syria."
Over 10 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes since 2010 because of the fighting. More than 6 million Syrians are internally displaced while another 5 million are living temporarily in the U.S., Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, and Iraq. As many as 470,000 Syrians are dead. In his remarks Pennsylvania, Trump linked his strategy for Syria with his campaign pledge to restrict the number of Syrian refugees admitted into the country.
Trump wants to see the government introduce "extreme vetting," which is a process that he has not yet explained or differentiated. The arena was filled cheers when Trump described his policy to defeat “Islamic terrorism.” Trump said that immigrants seeking entry into the U.S. would have to be heavily vetted or they will be barred. Military officials have reportedly doubt that Trump’s plan will work because they believe “safe zones” in Syria would become inviting targets for terrorist incidents. What remains to be seen is who would manage entry into the havens, who can live there, and whether U.S. ground forces would be necessary.
Last year, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter told Congress, "It's an undertaking of substantial scale where in my judgment the costs outweigh the benefits." More than 10 million Syrians have been forced from their homes as a result of a civil war against the Assad regime and a simultaneous international conflict against Islamic State group positions in the country's north and east.
More than 6 million are internally displaced, and almost 5 million have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq, according to the latest U.N. numbers. Trump thanked the more than 10,000 supporters who cheered at the Giant Center in Hershey for defeating Hillary Clinton. “And boy, did we get across that line, right?” Trump said in his speech. Trump was the first GOP presidential candidate to win in Pennsylvania in nearly 30 years. “The patriots in this arena tonight stood up for themselves and for their families and showed the whole world that the American people still run our country,” he added.
Back in January, Trump gave a hint of his policy towards Syrian refugees. “Anybody that comes in, if I win, they’re going back out,” Trump told supporters in Iowa while referring to Syrian refugees. "We’re going to do it humanely and everything, but they’re going back out,” Trump said. “We don’t know who they are, where they come from.”