New Report Finds Worsening Conditions for Syrian Refugees, Threats to Regional Stability, Due to Lack of Support

New York City – Human Rights First today released a new report, “The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership,” that details the deteriorating conditions facing Syrian refugees across the region, the backlogs hampering U.S. progress toward meeting its commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, and the impact of the failure to effectively address the refugees crisis on the stability of front-line refugee hosting states.  The report’s findings and recommendations are based on a recent research trip to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, where Human Rights First staff met with refugees, aid organizations, resettlement experts and others in the region. In today’s report, the organization warns that to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the United States must launch a global initiative to address the crisis, and significantly increase its own resettlement commitment, as well as its humanitarian assistance and development investment in the region.


“In the absence of adequate responsibility-sharing by other countries, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey have imposed restrictions that deny entry to Syrian refugees and have made it more difficult for those who had succeeded in fleeing to neighboring countries to remain in the region,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer, author of today’s report. “These escalating restrictions and lack of orderly resettlement or admission routes have sent a clear message to Syrians trying to flee their country and secure protection. It is no wonder so many Syrians have believed they had little choice but to try to secure protection in Europe. The continuing failure to adequately address the refugee crisis is harming U.S. national security interests, threatening the stability of frontline states and contributing to disunity in Europe.”


The report describes how the lack of effective regional protection, exacerbated by insufficient assistance and orderly resettlement or visa routes for refugees, is driving many Syrians to embark on dangerous trips to Europe. Syrian refugees are increasingly at risk, and suffer sharply deteriorating conditions, across the region. States have closed their borders, blocking civilians from escaping Syria, and imposed restrictions that make it difficult for many refugees living in the region to remain. Most refugees are prohibited from working legally, and are left in constant fear of detention and deportation back to Syria. In Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey, the large number of refugees is straining critical infrastructures— including water, sanitation, medical care, education and housing, as well as economic and job markets.


The report also details that the U.S. resettlement process is hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps, which undermine the United States’ ability to meet its humanitarian, protection, and foreign policy goals. Despite significant U.S. efforts to step up resettlement processing, these backlogs and staffing gaps make it difficult for the United States to meet even its modest commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees, which amounts to only about 2 percent of the Syrian refugees in need of resettlement and less than 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population. As of January 31, one–third of the way through the fiscal year, the United States had resettled only 841 out of the 10,000 Syrian refugees it pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016.


The report is preceded by a foreword by Ryan C. Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Kuwait.  Ambassador Crocker outlines the U.S. national security interests in resettling and assisting Syrian refugees, and the need to address the backlogs in U.S. processing of resettlement cases and the cases of Iraqis and Afghans who put their lives at the risk to work with the United States. As of January 2016, more than 50,000 Iraqis, including many who worked for the U.S. military and government, are caught in a backlog. Many have been waiting years to be brought to safety in the United States.


“This is a global crisis. It is a crisis that very much involves U.S. interests, and it is a problem that can only be successfully addressed if the United States leads,” wrote Ambassador Crocker. “Providing refuge to the most vulnerable in need of protection is what has built our nation and made it a beacon of hope in a dark world. This is not a partisan issue, it is an American issue.”


Key recommendations from the report include:

  • The United States should work with other donor states to fully meet humanitarian appeals and significantly increase U.S. humanitarian aid and development investments in frontline refugee hosting states;
  • The United States should champion the protection of the rights of refugees, including their right to work, access education, and cross borders in order to escape persecution.
  • The United States should substantially increase the U.S. resettlement commitment. For fiscal year 2017, the U.S. government should, in addition to resettling refugees from other countries, aim to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, a commitment more commensurate with both the American tradition of leadership and U.S. national security interests.
  • The United States should address staffing gaps to reduce backlogs and bottlenecks in resettlement and Special Immigrant Visa processing for applicants who worked with the U.S. military.
  • The United States should appoint a high-level assistant to the president charged with refugee protection.

“Given the overriding humanitarian, human rights, foreign policy, and national security interests at stake, the United States should lead, working closely with European allies and other countries, a comprehensive response to the Syrian refugee crisis and the broader global displacement crisis,” wrote Acer.


The report also outlines the extensive vetting and security clearance process, the most rigorous process applied to any traveling to the United States, used to screen Syrian refugees before they are admitted to the United States, and includes as an appendix a copy of a December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, and secretaries of homeland security, who confirm this rigorous vetting and express that failing to provide refuge to those fleeing violence would undermine the United States’ core objective of combating terrorism.



Published on February 29, 2016


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