Senate Should Pass Bipartisan Bill to Provide Funding to Better Address Syrian Refugee Crisis
New York City – Human Right First today welcomed the introduction of an emergency supplemental appropriations bill in the Senate that would provide funding to support an increase in U.S. humanitarian assistance and more robust resettlement of Syrian refugees to better address the global refugee crisis. The bill, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), requires reporting on the the security vetting processes used for the resettlement of refugees and could support resettlement of approximately 100,000 Syrian refugees over two years.
“So far the United States has brought only a token number of Syrian refugees to safety through its resettlement program. The introduction of this bill is a step in the right direction, and demonstrates a serious bipartisan commitment to addressing the staggering refugee crisis resulting from horrific violence in Syria,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Passage of this bill would demonstrate U.S. global leadership and encourage other countries to follow suit. We urge Congress to support this legislation, which is commensurate with the leadership role the United States should take given the scale and scope of the global crisis.”
Human Rights First applauds Senators Leahy and Graham for their strong and principled bipartisan commitment to protecting refugees from persecution. The Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (S.2145), which was introduced Tuesday, does not set a specific number of refugees to be resettled in the United States. It requires the secretary of state to submit a report on the proposed uses of funds, and to describe and assess the security vetting processes used for the resettlement of refugees.
Since the beginning of the war in Syria, the United States has resettled only about 1,500 Syrian refugees. The Obama Administration has announced an increase in the refugee ceiling for refugees from all countries from 70,000 to 85,000 for fiscal year 2016, which would include resettlement of at least 10,000 Syrian refugees. Human Rights First, along with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Jewish, and other faith groups, and former government officials from both political parties—including national security experts—have called on the United States to increase its resettlement of Syrian refugees to 100,000 in fiscal year 2016. Last month Pope Francis spoke to Congress and called on America to respond as best as it can, with humanity, justice and compassion, to the plight of refugees and immigrants.
The world is facing the largest refugee crisis since World War II, with over 60 million people displaced. 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 38% 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.
Human Rights First continues to urge the administration to lead a comprehensive global initiative—in partnership with European and other states—to improve access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. This initiative to should:
- Increase resettlement and other routes to protection. The United States should lead a global initiative that includes many countries to work collectively to resettle or provide other admission to over 1 million Syrian refugees. The United States should increase its own resettlement commitment to 100,000 Syrian refugees for fiscal year 2016, increasing the refugee ceiling (for refugees from all nations) to 200,000 and implement more expeditious routes to protection for Syrian refugees with family in the United States and other at-risk refugees. In the next month, the administration should appoint a high-level coordinator in the White House to oversee the refugee response, as well as senior refugee coordinators at the Departments of State and Homeland Security. These officials should be tasked with securing significant improvements in the pace of the U.S. resettlement program as well as at the Departments of State and Homeland Security to address resettlement processing delays and logjams, and oversee the refugee response.
- Ensure sufficient vetting resources. The resettlement process includes the execution of multiple security checks. Refugees are much more thoroughly vetted than other categories of individuals who come to the United States. The president should direct the FBI and other security vetting agencies to devote additional staff to the conduct and completion of such checks, to address some of the delays in the resettlement process.
- Finally reform the resettlement process. Over the next six months, the administration should review and reform the delay-plagued resettlement process to be more timely and effective without compromising security.
- Meet the humanitarian assistance goal and increase development assistance. The United States should lead a global push to secure 100% funding of the UN’s humanitarian appeal for the Syria crisis, set a strong example by further stepping up its contribution to cover a higher percentage of the appeal, significantly increase development funding for refugee-hosting countries, press wealthy states to increase contributions, and develop longer term strategies for meeting the front-line needs of refugees and hosting communities.
- Champion protection for refugees. The United States should encourage states in the region neighboring Syria—and in Europe and beyond—to respect the human rights of refugees and migrants, including to allow refugees to work to support their families, to educate children, to facilitate access to higher education, and to respect obligations to protect people from arbitrary detention and return to persecution.
- Redouble efforts to find effective multilateral solutions to the political and security crisis in Syria and to address the human rights abuses causing so many people to flee in search of protection.
“This country has a long history of protecting the persecuted. This is who we are as a nation. The bipartisan support of this bill should inspire the Obama Administration to propose a bolder effort to resettle Syrian refugees,” added Acer. “We also urge Congress and the administration to support increased humanitarian and development assistance to front-line refugee hosting states, which continue to struggle under the strain of hosting a vast majority of these refugees.”