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The most heartless line in the GOP debate: "The Syrians should stay in Syria"

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

At the Republican debate Thursday night, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie explained he wants to solve the refugee crisis by ending the civil war in Syria.

Then he said this:

The Syrians should stay in Syria.

Christie's point is that Syrians shouldn't have to leave their country. The United States should help set up and defend a protected area where they're safe from attack. That's certainly a reasonable, if debatable, position.

But there's still an implication that Syrians shouldn't be leaving their country and that Western countries are under no obligation to take them in. Christie clarified this point when he said, we, the United States, "should take no Syrian refugees of any kind."

Syrians are living in the world's worst civil war, caught between Bashar al-Assad's murderous regime on one side and ISIS on the other. Since the war began in 2011, more than 250,000 Syrians have been killed. Half of all Syrians have been displaced from their homes because their towns and cities are being destroyed. Many live in overcrowded, underfunded, unsanitary refugee camps that look like this:

Yarmouk refugees
The Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, which mostly holds Palestinians living in Syria.
(United Nation Relief and Works Agency via Getty Images)

As a result of the fighting, life expectancy in Syria has fallen to what it was in 1965. Extreme poverty (living on $1.25 a day) was unheard of in Syria before the war; now more than half of Syrians live in extreme poverty.

What does this mean for Syrians, in very concrete terms? Take the town of Madaya, besieged by Assad's troops until this week, where people were starving to death:

Christie wants Syrians to be able to stay in Syria. Syrians would agree. But that isn't the reality.

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