Increase in U.S. Refugee Ceiling Falls Short of Meaningful Leadership
New York City – Human Rights First today said that Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement that the United States will increase the annual ceiling for refugee admissions is a modest step in the right direction, but falls far short of demonstrating the global leadership needed to meaningfully address the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Secretary Kerry said that the annual refugee ceiling will be increased to at total of 85,000 in fiscal year 2016, with an additional increase to 100,000 total refugees in 2017. Human Rights First continues to urge the Obama Administration to lead a global effort to address the situation, including increasing the refugee ceiling to 200,000 to support a commitment to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year. So far the administration has announced that it will only commit to resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016.
“This kind of piecemeal incremental approach is simply not enough to effectively address this crisis,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “This minimal increase for next year is certainly not a strong response to the largest refugee crisis since World War II and the plight of those 4 million Syrians who have fled horrific violence in search of safety. The Obama Administration should commit to resettling at least 100,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, and work alongside foreign governments to close the large gap remaining in needed humanitarian assistance aid.”
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the United States has resettled just under 1500 Syrians. According to the United Nations, more than 4 million Syrians have fled their country due to conflict and persecution, and 7.6 million are displaced within Syria in need of humanitarian assistance. Many of these refugees have been stranded for years in neighboring countries where they cannot work or support their families, have little access to education, and lack the level of humanitarian assistance they need. The United Nations’ global humanitarian appeal for Syrian refugees is only 37% funded, and food assistance has been cut. Without meaningful access to resettlement in other safe countries, many are turning to dangerous routes to reach places of safety where they can rebuild their lives.
In response to the global refugee crisis, Human Rights First calls on the U.S. government to lead a comprehensive global initiative —in partnership with European and other states— to improve access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. A key component of this initiative should include increased refugee resettlement so that refugees have safe routes to use to secure resettlement in other countries, as well as steps to better protect the human rights of migrants and refugees. This initiative to should include:
- Increased resettlement. The United States should encourage other resettlement states to increase their commitments to resettle Syrian refugees, and the United States should itself announce a commitment to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. President Obama should increase the U.S. annual ceiling for refugee admissions from 70,000 to 200,000 in order to facilitate this major resettlement initiative.
- Meet the humanitarian assistance goal, and increase development assistance. The United States should ensure that the UN humanitarian appeal for Syria is fully funded by encouraging other states to increase their contributions to the appeal, and by significantly stepping up U.S. contributions for humanitarian and development assistance to the region.
- Redouble efforts to find effective multilateral solutions to the political and security crisis in Syria and to address the human rights abuses that are causing so many people to flee their homes and their countries in search of protection.
- Improve protection in neighboring states and globally. The United States should encourage states to allow refugees to work to support their families, to access education, and to respect obligations to protect refugees from arbitrary detention or return to persecution. All efforts to combat smuggling and trafficking should safeguard the human rights of refugees and migrants.
Human Rights First notes that United States has a rigorous system for vetting refugee resettlement cases, which includes extensive background and security checks.