At Fiscal Year End, Obama Administration Meets Refugee Resettlement Goals
New York City – As today marks the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, Human Rights First applauds the Obama Administration for reaching its goal of resettling 85,000 refugees, including at least 10,000 Syrian refugees, and called on the administration and Congress to work together to ensure that the United States can reach its resettlement goals for FY 2017 as well. Early reports indicate that as of yesterday the United States had resettled at least 84,951 refugees from all countries, including 12,587 Syrian refugees fleeing horrific violence and persecution, during FY 2016. The final totals will be updated in coming days.
“The Obama Administration deserves praise for reaching its overall refugee resettlement goal this year and exceeding its modest goal of resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. We hope the United States can now begin to lead, rather than lag, on Syrian refugee resettlement, which advances both U.S. humanitarian and national security interests,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “It is critical that U.S. agencies continue to work together to address the delays, staffing shortfalls and efficiency gaps, that have hindered the capacity and timeliness of the U.S. resettlement process.”
Throughout FY 2016 Human Rights First has called on the administration to address bottlenecks, backlogs, and delays hampering the resettlement of thoroughly vetted Syrian refugees as outlined in Human Rights First’s reports, “At Least 10,000,” and “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” U.S. agencies have taken steps to increase staffing levels and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent additional officers to Jordan and Turkey to conduct Syrian resettlement interviews. Government officials have confirmed that while they have taken steps to address some efficiency gaps in resettlement vetting, these steps have been taken while maintaining rigorous security screening. Human Rights First notes that arrivals often spike at the end of the year, but the resettlement program would be better served by continuing to address these backlog issues to allow for a steadier pace of arrivals throughout the year.
Earlier this month the Obama Administration announced an increase in the total number of refugees to be resettled in the United States to at least 110,000 in FY 2017. While a step forward, these levels still fall far short of U.S. “fair share” levels, which have been calculated by Oxfam to be 163,392 for Syrians, and would likely approach 650,000 with respect to refugees from all nations. Congress is currently considering appropriations spending bills for FY 2017 that include drastic cuts to funding levels for refugee resettlement that if passed would make it challenging for the United States to meet even its relatively modest FY 2017 goals. Human Rights First urges Congress to honor the longstanding U.S. commitment to refugee protection by fully funding the refugee resettlement program. The organization also calls on the United States to continue to bolster its resettlement program and other efforts aimed at addressing the global refugee crisis, which will help support U.S. allies in the Middle East and Europe that bear the largest burden of this crisis.
“Maintaining a strong refugee resettlement program is true to American values and vital to the long term security of our nation and stability of U.S. allies,” said Acer. “Congress should reject any funding cuts that would hamper the ability of the United States to reach its modest FY 2017 resettlement goals, and support continuing efforts to lead on addressing the global refugee crisis.”
Thirty-two of the nation’s most prominent national security leaders, retired military leaders, and former government officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, CIA Director General Michael Hayden, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), affirmed in a June 2016 Statement of Principles, “The United States has long been a refuge for those seeking safety and freedom, and for a simple reason: Americans believe their compassion and openness are sources not of weakness but strength… As we ensure the safety of our own citizens, we should recognize that refugees serve as a source of national renewal. Fleeing horrors today, they will tomorrow emerge as patriotic citizens who give back to the country that welcomed them in their time of desperation.”
National security experts have explained that U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees advances U.S. national security interests and would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region. A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms this national security interest and that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.