U.S. To Increase Number Of Syrian Refugees Accepted Into The Country
The U.S. is set to ramp up its contribution to dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis, but there's a lot more we can do.
One of the major international stories of the past several weeks has been the flood of refugees heading towards Europe to escape the civil war in Syria. On a daily basis, thousands of men, women, and children have made their way across the Meditteranean and to the shores of Europe, with vast numbers of them arriving in nations like Serbia and then trying to make their way to one of the nations that is part of the European Union. Many have not made it all, with overloaded boats capsizing while at sea, and other migrants reaching the shore only to die in the effort to get to land. For those who have made onshore, the reception has not always been welcoming. Many of the nations in which they have initially arrived have essentially transported to their border and sent them on their way. Hungary, which has received a large amount of the refugees trying to make their way to Germany and elsewhere, has begun imposing restrictions on migrants including erecting a border fence, which has proved futile in stemming the tide of migrants, and using tear gas and water cannons on refugees and government officials have demeaned the refugees by tossing food at them. Additionally, right-wing political leaders in the country have protested against the migrants and provided scenes such as the one the world saw earlier this month showing a Hungarian journalist linked to a right-wing outlet physically stomping on migrants as they tried to made their way through a border crossing. Hungary’s Prime Minister has said that the policies are designed to discourage the refugees from crossing into Hungary, and their seems to be little sympathy for them in the country. The migrant crisis has also led to calls for other nations to accept these war refugees, including the United States.
Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration announced that they would increase the number of refugees the U.S. would accept up to 10,000, a significant increase from the 1500 Syrian refugees that have been accepted by the United States since the Syrian civil war started four years ago. It quickly became clear, though, that the response from Washington was being overwhelmed by the scope of the crisis. Meanwhile, the migrants keep coming and Europe is quickly getting overwhelmed itself. In an effort to deal with that problem, today Secretary of State John Kerry announced a significant increase in the U.S. effort to aid and resettle these refugees:
The Obama administration will increase the number of refugees the United States is willing to accept to 100,000 annually in 2017, a significant increase over the current worldwide cap of 70,000, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday.
The announcement came as Mr. Kerry conferred here with German officials on the wave of migrants that has swamped Europe and met with Syrian refugees who are seeking asylum in Europe.
Under the new plan, the American limit on refugee visas would be increased to 85,000 in the fiscal year 2016. The cap would then rise to 100,000 the following year.
Mr. Kerry said that the United States would explore ways to increase the limit beyond 100,000 in future years while carrying out background checks to ensure that the refugees have not been infiltrated by terrorists.
“This step is in keeping with America’s best tradition as a land of second chances and a beacon of hope,” Mr. Kerry said in his prepared remarks. “And it will be accompanied by continued financial contributions to the humanitarian effort — not only from the U.S. government, but from the American people. The need is enormous, but we are determined to answer the call.”
Among the beneficiaries of the new policy will be Syrians. The United States has taken in about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the conflict began more than four years ago, while Europe has been absorbing hundreds of thousands.
The White House said earlier this month that it would take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year, and the administration’s decision to raise the ceiling for all refugees worldwide in 2016 will allow for that increase. Raising the worldwide ceiling to 100,000 in 2017 could enable the United States to accept even more Syrians, though American officials did not provide an estimate.
Americans officials said that the Syrian refugees accepted by the United States over the next year would be drawn from a list of more than 16,000 that the United Nations prepared before the current influx of migrants in Europe.
Still, the steps that Mr. Kerry announced are much less than that some former American officials and refugee experts have recommended.
Last Thursday, more than 20 former senior officials, including some who served in the State Department and Pentagon during the Obama administration, urged the White House to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees.
“We urge that you announce support for a refugees admissions goal of 100,000 Syrian refugees on an extraordinary basis, over and above the current worldwide refugee ceiling of 70,000,” they wrote in a letter to President Obama and congressional leaders. “With some four million Syrian refugees in neighboring countries and hundreds of thousands of Syrian asylum seekers in Europe, this would be a responsible exercise in burden sharing.”
That letter was signed by some prominent veterans of the Obama administration: Michèle A. Flournoy, a former under secretary of defense; Derek Chollet, who served as an assistant defense secretary; Harold H. Koh, who served as the State Department’s legal adviser; and Eric P. Schwartz, who was a senior refugee official in the State Department.
David Miliband, the former foreign secretary of Britain who now heads the International Rescue Committee, has called on the United States to resettle 65,000 Syrians by the end of 2016.
Mr. Obama has the authority to increase the refugee cap, but Congress will need to approve additional funding. State Department officials have said that it would cost $1.1 billion to accept and resettle 70,000 refugees in 2015.
This move seems to be the least that the United States can do in response to this crisis. As it is, the fact that we have only taken in 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the civil war is atrociously absurd on a humanitarian level. Between them, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey have taken in some four million refugees in that same period. Germany has said it is prepared to accept as any as 800,000 refugees in the coming months and years on top of the roughly 3.5 million already in the country. When the government of Iceland announced that the island nation would take in 50 refugees, some 10,000 citizens signed a petition urging the government to do more, with many of the offering to put up refugees in their own home. It hasn’t been easy for many of these nations to accept refugees. Syria’s neighbors in particular have been overwhelmed with the rush of refugees and the United Nations has been brought in to help the situation. In some parts of Europe, such as Britain and France, there has been some resistance to taking in even small numbers of refugees. For the most part, though, many nations in Europe have stepped up to the plate to help these people, most of whom left Syria to avoid war and because the homes they lived have been destroyed by one side or another.
All of these nations that have taken in refugees are smaller than the United States, some of them much smaller, and they have limited resources to house and help care for these people, but they have done it anyway. Given that, it seems clear that the United States can and should do much more to abide by its international obligations to help these war refugees. In some cases, that help can come in the form of material aid and personnel to assist nations in Europe with the processing and treatment of the refugees that have arrived in their borders. Beyond that, though, it seems clear that the United States needs to do its part to give these people a home, even if it just a temporary home until the war ends in their home country. The moves announced by Secretary Kerry are a good start, but more should be done. Unfortunately, given the fact that we’re in the middle of a Presidential campaign in which immigration has become a huge issues it may be difficult to convince Congress to do what needs to be done here. However, if Republicans like Ted Cruz really believe what they say about the importance of America’s role in the world, then it seems clear that there are few immediate crises in the world right now more important than this.