Obama Administration Resettles 2,340 Syrian Refugees in July, Marking Progress Toward 2016 Goal
New York City—The State Department today released official resettlement data for July, indicating that 2,340 Syrian refugees arrived last month, bringing the fiscal year total to 7,551 Syrian arrivals. Ten months into the fiscal year, the U.S. government has now attained 75 percent of its modest goal to resettle “at least 10,000″ Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. This marks an increase in the pace of Syrian refugee arrivals over previous months, but does not reflect any reduction in the security vetting built into the system. Human Rights First welcomes the increase in resettlement arrivals, a trend which it expects to continue over the coming months as many refugees’ cases have been approved and are simply awaiting travel, but urges the Obama Administration to continue to take steps to address the delays and efficiency gaps that have undermined its ability to bring refugees to safety in the United States in a timely manner.
“The past two months have seen significant progress in the number of Syrian refugees who have arrived in the United States through the U.S. resettlement process, and we remain cautiously optimistic that if resettlement arrivals continue at the current pace, the administration will meet its modest goal of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Meeting this goal is crucial to demonstrate to the global community that the United States intends to play a role in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis, but a more ambitious goal must be set for next year if the United States is to effectively lead, encourage other countries to do more, and safeguard U.S. interests in the region surrounding Syria.”
Human Rights First’s April 2016 report, “At Least 10,000” details the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its goal of resettling at least ten thousand 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. As detailed in that report, 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.
U.S. agencies have begun to increase staffing levels focused on Syrian resettlement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) 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.” Arrivals often spike at the end of the year, but the resettlement program would be better served by a steadier pace of arrivals throughout the 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. ability to effectively lead at the September 2016 conference, and beyond, will be advanced by a strong commitment to Syrian resettlement.
The U.S. pledge to resettle at least ten thousand Syrian refugees this fiscal year amounts to only about two 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, Turkey, and Lebanon, straining these countries’ infrastructures and threatening regional stability. More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees have been registered in Turkey, which is hosting the highest number of Syrian refugees.
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.
As the country and world recently marked World Refugee Day, 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.”