Six Months in, United States has Resettled only 1,285 of 10,000 Pledged Syrian Refugees
New York City – Human Rights First today released a new report detailing the slow progress the Obama Administration has made in the first six months of FY 2016 toward its goal of resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. The State Department today released its official resettlement numbers for March, indicating that it resettled 330 Syrian refugees last month, bringing the six-month total to 1,285 Syrian refugees. The report includes recommendations for the Obama Administration to address the backlogs hampering the resettlement system, and calls on the U.S. government to demonstrate global leadership by significantly increasing its commitments to support front-line states by resettling significantly more Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.
“These low arrival numbers should serve as a wake up call to the U.S. government. The dismal progress so far toward reaching its resettlement goals is undermining the ability of the United States to lead by example,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “The United States has the capacity and security processes in place to resettle far beyond 10,000 Syrian refugees. We urge the administration to intensify efforts to address the backlogs and bottlenecks hampering the resettlement system and demonstrate the strong leadership this crisis demands by significantly increasing the U.S. resettlement commitment for fiscal year 2017.”
The Human Rights First’s report, “At Least 10,000” 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, has been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps, making it difficult for the United States to meet its minimal commitment to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees. Addressing these backlogs, as detailed in the report, would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting as outlined in an appendix to the report.
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 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 increased U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees 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 that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.
Human Rights First continues to urge the United States to lead a comprehensive global effort to address the global refugee crisis. In order to effectively lead, to press other states to do more, and to advance U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, the U.S. government 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;
- Champion the protection of the rights of refugees, including their right to work, access education, and cross borders in order to escape persecution;
- Address staffing and efficiency gaps to reduce backlogs and bottlenecks that hamper U.S. resettlement and SIV initiatives – including through Department of Homeland Security (DHS) staff to address backlogs in “no decision” cases awaiting review, and resources for DHS and security vetting agencies to conduct vetting follow-up;
- 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; and
- Appoint a high-level assistant to the president charged with refugee protection.
A bipartisan group of former humanitarian and national security officials has recommended that the United States resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees, and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also recommended that the United States resettle 100,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees.
“The United States must be ready to lead in advance of hosting the high-level refugee summit during the U.N. General Assembly in September. There is still time for the United States to tackle these backlogs and meet its goals given the number of cases already far along in the U.S. resettlement “pipeline.” Leading a substantial global effort to provide significantly increased resettlement and assistance for Syria’s refugees is not only a humanitarian imperative, but also advances the national security interests of the United States and its allies in the Middle East and Europe,” added Acer.