Congress Should Fund White House’s Increased Refugee Resettlement Goal

New York CityHuman Rights First today welcomes the Obama Administration’s decision to increase the number of refugees resettled in the United States to at least 110,000 in 2017, up from 85,000 in 2016. The organization notes, however, that the increase will not be enough to address the scope of the current refugee crisis, and that Congress and the administration should work together to properly fund the U.S. resettlement program.

The administration’s decision comes one week before two major refugee summits slated for next week in New York City, the United Nations High Level Meeting on Refugees and Migrants, and President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, and one day before the White House hosts a meeting on welcoming refugees to the United States.

“U.S. leadership is essential for addressing the global refugee crisis,” said Eleanor Acer, who was selected as a civil society speaker for next week’s U.N. meeting. “Today’s announcement is a step in the right direction, but falls short of an ambitious goal that is commensurate with the scale of the refugees crisis and the U.S. national security imperative to address it.  We urge the Obama Administration to continue to work to strengthen the capacity and timeliness of U.S. resettlement initiatives and to develop a comprehensive plan for addressing the global crisis that centers on securing nations’ compliance with human rights and refugee protection legal obligations.”

Congress has yet to pass appropriations for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 but as the bills stand now, Congress is set to drastically cut funding levels for refugee resettlement in FY2017. Human RIghts First urges legislators to fully fund the program, in keeping with the United States’ historic commitment to protecting the persecuted. The organization notes that without proper funding levels, commitments made by President Obama at next week’s summits will be difficult to execute.

“Congress has a choice: it can advance U.S. national security and humanitarian interests by supporting—and urging bolder—U.S. leadership to address this major global crisis, or it can engage in petty partisan bickering that scapegoats the victims of terror and repression and undermines U.S. foreign policy and national security interests,” said Acer.

The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Over 20 million refugees have fled their countries, including nearly 5 million Syrians. A few weeks ago the Obama Administration announced it had met its commitment to resettle “at least” ten thousand Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016.

In anticipation of next week’s meetings, Human Rights First issued a report that lays out steps the United States should take to lead a comprehensive effort to address the global refugee crisis and focuses on areas where U.S. action is vital. Most critically, the paper notes, the United States should champion the human rights of refugees, including the rights to protection from return to persecution, the ability to work legally, and freedom from deprivations of liberty and arbitrary detention. The paper notes that if basic human rights are not secured refugees will continue to die, suffer, and struggle to rebuild their lives.

Human Rights First is urging the Obama Administration to use the Leaders’ Summit and the upcoming United Nations General Assembly discussion of this issues to:

  • Champion the human rights of refugees;
  • Secure state compliance with human rights and refugee protection legal obligations, particularly prohibitions against return or rejection of refugees;
  • Lead by example at home by ending border policies that block access to asylum; and
  • Double U.S. resettlement numbers, with at least 40 percent of the total coming from Syria.

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, as detailed in Human Rights First’s February report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership.” 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. In addition, 32 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. The demonstration of these qualities accords with the core ideals on which our nation was founded, and on which our greatness rests.”


Published on September 14, 2016


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