Overbroad Barriers Stifle U.S. Response to Syrian Refugee Crisis

Washington, D.C. – In a statement today to the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, Human Rights First recommended ways for the United States to champion the protection of those fleeing the Syrian conflict. Today’s statement draws from research gained during Human Rights First’s recent trip to Turkey and Jordan and comes as the committee gathers for a hearing on “The Syrian Refugee Crisis.”

“How the United States addresses this refugee crisis will be a critical test for U.S. leadership in the region. The United States has played a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance, giving $1.3 billion to relief efforts both within Syria and in neighboring countries,” wrote Human Rights First in its statement. “This is consistent both with U.S. leadership on humanitarian relief and its strategic interest in preventing further destabilization of the region. But the U.S. government can and should do more, including by using its unique position as a global leader to champion the protection of refugees trying to flee from Syria and to launch a meaningful resettlement initiative.”

The United States has the world’s leading resettlement program yet resettled only 36 Syrians in fiscal year 2013. As violence in Syria continues with no end in sight, the United States needs to step up its resettlement of Syrian refugees and Human Rights First recommends the U.S. make available at least 15,000 spaces for Syrian refugees each year to help some of the most desperate rebuild their lives, in addition to giving support to Syria’s neighbors that are hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. As part of efforts to step up resettlement of Syrians,  the United States must proactively address many of the unintended and unjust impediments due to overbroad definitions and interpretations of the terms relating to inadmissibility under U.S. immigration law that may prevent some of those most in need from reaching safety in the United States. Unless swift action is taken to correct this problem, these laws will exclude from refugee protection anyone who assisted opposition groups, even those whose efforts the U.S. government has supported verbally and/or materially, against a regime it has repeatedly condemned.

Today’s statement for the record also includes several other recommendations for the U.S. government to show leadership in the Syrian refugee crisis. These include:

  • Pressing states to lift barriers to protection and supporting meaningful border monitoring.
  • Stepping up support to refugee-hosting states.
  • Strengthening support for refugees outside camps.
  • Increasing support for host communities through development aid.
  • Encouraging countries to make work authorization and education more accessible.

Published on January 7, 2014


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