At Least 10,000: A six-month progress report on U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees
In September 2015, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced that the United States would resettle “at least 10,000” Syrian refugees during the 2016 fiscal year, a modest pledge given the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis and the capacity of the United States. Halfway through the 2016 fiscal year, the Obama administration has resettled only 12.9% of the 10,000 it has agreed to resettle by September 30, 2016. On April 5, 2016 the State Department announced that 330 Syrian refugees were resettled in March 2016, bringing the total number of Syrians resettled so far this fiscal year to 1,285.
The recent death of an eleven-month-old baby in dire need of heart surgery, who was waiting in Jordan while his U.S. resettlement case was under consideration, underscores the need for timely and effective U.S. processing. The U.S. resettlement process is plagued by backlogs and staffing gaps which, left unaddressed, will make it difficult for the United States to meet its minimal commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees.
The conflict in Syria, which entered its sixth year in March 2016, has displaced more than 11 million people over the course of five violent and turbulent years. Over 4.8 million of these people have fled the country to neighboring states, straining the infrastructures of frontline refugee hosting states like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey.
The U.S. pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year amounts to only about 2 percent of the Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, and just 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population of 4.8 million in the region around Syria. This pledge falls far short of the necessary U.S. leadership, given the scale of the crisis, the overall resettlement needs—which exceed 480,000—and the impact of the crisis on U.S. allies, regional stability, and U.S. national security interests.
Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, has explained that, “A U.S. initiative to resettle Syrian refugees in the United States affirmatively advances U.S. national security interests. Increased resettlement and aid helps protect the stability of a region that is home to U.S. allies.” A bipartisan group of former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of defense, state, and homeland security also pointed out in a December 2015 letter to Congress that “resettlement initiatives help advance U.S. national security interests by supporting the stability of our allies and partners that are struggling to host large numbers of refugees.” This group included former Secretaries of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and Janet Napolitano, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, former CIA Directors General Michael Hayden, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) and General David Petraeus, U.S. Army (Ret.), and former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger.