U.S. Leadership Urgently Needed to Address Syrian Refugee Crisis
New York City – As Secretary of State John Kerry meets with the Senate and House judiciary committees this morning to discuss the U.S. response to the growing refugee crisis in Europe, Human Rights First urges the Obama Administration to lead a global effort to address the situation, including a commitment to resettle at least 100,000 Syrian refugees during the next fiscal year.
“To date the U.S. response to this crisis, especially in terms of resettlement initiatives, has been alarmingly lacking —only about 1,500 Syrian refugees resettled in the United States since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. As the world leader in refugee resettlement, it is embarrassing that the United States has not yet launched a major resettlement effort,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “Not only would such an effort support front-line states like Jordan and Turkey that are struggling to handle the brunt of this refugee crisis, but it would also make clear to refugees that there are formal routes to safety they can attempt to access from the region, without embarking on dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean.”
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 37% 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.
In response to the global refugee crisis, Human Rights First calls on the U.S. government to lead a comprehensive global initiative —in partnership with European and other states— to improve access to protection for refugees and asylum seekers. A key component of this initiative should include increased refugee resettlement so that refugees have safe routes to use to secure resettlement in other countries, as well as steps to better protect the human rights of migrants and refugees. This initiative to should include:
- Increased resettlement. The United States should encourage other resettlement states to increase their commitments to resettle Syrian refugees, and the United States should itself announce a commitment to resettle 100,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. President Obama should increase the U.S. annual ceiling for refugee admissions from 70,000 to 200,000 in order to facilitate this major resettlement initiative.
- Meet the humanitarian assistance goal, and increase development assistance. The United States should ensure that the UN humanitarian appeal for Syria is fully funded by encouraging other states to increase their contributions to the appeal, and by significantly stepping up U.S. contributions for humanitarian and development assistance to the region.
- Redouble efforts to find effective multilateral solutions to the political and security crisis in Syria and to address the human rights abuses that are causing so many people to flee their homes and their countries in search of protection.
- Improve protection in neighboring states and globally. The United States should encourage states to allow refugees to work to support their families, to access education, and to respect obligations to protect refugees from arbitrary detention or return to persecution. All efforts to combat smuggling and trafficking should safeguard the human rights of refugees and migrants.
Human Rights First notes that United States has a rigorous system for vetting refugee resettlement cases, which includes extensive background and security checks.
“The administration’s failure to lead a major resettlement initiative has sent exactly the wrong message to states in the region that are struggling to handle large numbers of refugees and to refugees who have been struggling to survive in the region for years now,” added Acer.