Obama Administration Resettles 1,069 Syrian Refugees in May, Remains far from Goal
New York City—The State Department today released its official resettlement numbers for May, indicating that eight months into the fiscal year it has resettled a total of only 2,805 Syrian refugees, or 28 percent of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the U.S. government has pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016. This number includes 1,069 Syrian refugees resettled during the month of May, an increase in the pace of Syrian refugee resettlement arrivals over previous months.
“With only four months remaining this fiscal year, the United States is still far from meeting its commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. We welcome the administration’s efforts to address some of the delays, backlogs, and efficiency gaps that have been hampering the U.S. resettlement of refugees, but additional efforts are clearly necessary,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “With President Obama’s Leader’s Summit on Refugees less than four months away, the United States’ ability to lead and to encourage other nations to resettle more Syrian refugees will be undercut if the administration fails to meet its modest resettlement goals. To lead by example, the United States should meet this year’s goal and significantly increase its Syrian refugee resettlement goals for next year.”
Human Rights First’s report, “At Least 10,000” details the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its goal of resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. The report outlines how U.S. processing of resettlement cases, as well as processing of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from individuals who worked with the U.S. military, have been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps. Addressing these backlogs would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting.
Over the past year, U.S. agencies have begun to increase staffing levels focused on Syrian resettlement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has sent additional officers to the region 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 and that “all applicants will still be subject to the same stringent security requirements that apply to all applicants for U.S. refugee resettlement.”
Recently, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that 4,700 Syrian refugees have been approved and are awaiting U.S. resettlement, while an additional 7,900 are awaiting security review. With continued efforts to address systemic delays, efficiency gaps, and backlogs in the resettlement process, the United States could make significant progress toward its goal by the end of the fiscal year. President Obama will host a Leader’s Summit on Refugees at the United Nations on September 20th, and U.S. officials have stated that the administration seeks to work with other states to double the total number of resettled refugees and those afforded other legal channels of admission globally.
The U.S. pledge to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year amounts to only about 2 percent of the 480,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, and just 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population of over 4.8 million in the region around Syria. The large majority of these refugees have fled to neighboring states including Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, straining these countries infrastructures and threatening regional stability.
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.
“By addressing the delays, backlogs, and efficiency gaps in resettlement processing, the United States will strengthen the effectiveness of the process while also maintaining rigorous security screening,” added Acer.