U.S. Pledges to Resettle More Syrian Refugees, But Doesn’t Say How Many
Last week the United States pledged to lead in resettling Syrian refugees, with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard describing how the flow of refugees out of Syria has grown to a “mass exodus.” The numbers are indeed staggering. Over 3.2 million refugees have fled Syria and sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. An additional 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within Syria, many forced to move multiple times in search of safety.
This pledge of U.S. leadership is an important step. As Human Rights First explained in a report last year, beyond the moral imperative, it is in the clear strategic interest of the U.S. government to lead this international effort. A substantial resettlement initiative, along with targeted assistance to refugee hosting communities, will help support the stability of Syria’s neighbors. Destabilization of the region, which includes countries closely allied with the United States, would deal a blow to American foreign policy priorities.
Leadership on this issue is long overdue. Last week the LA Times reported that the United States has accepted only about 300 Syrian refugees so far. The United States is currently assessing the cases of about 9000 Syrian refugees for potential resettlement.
These numbers are still just a drop in the bucket compared with the overall need. The UNHCR estimates that more than ten percent of the 3.2 million refugees living in countries neighboring Syria—that’s over 300,000 refugees—are acutely vulnerable people in need of resettlement. On December 8th, leading international humanitarian groups called on the international community to resettle 180,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2015. UNHCR is currently appealing for resettlement or other visas for 130,000 Syrian refugees. But countries have only pledged 100,000 spaces.
The United States has still not announced an actual target number for its Syrian resettlement initiative, though it has indicated that it expects the number to “surge” next year. While the resistance to setting a specific numerical target may spare U.S. agencies criticism should they fall short of their goal, the lack of a public commitment level also undermines the ability of the United States to encourage other states to substantially step up their pledges. The time for hesitance has long past.
Frontline states hosting large numbers of refugees—like Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon—have essentially closed their borders to civilians fleeing violence, leaving many trapped inside the country. The New York Times has reported that Jordan finally allowed several hundred refugees, including women and children, who had been stranded in the “no-man’s land” between the borders of Syria and Jordan to cross into Jordan on Thursday. A more robust international resettlement initiative would demonstrate to Syria’s neighbors a real commitment to share in hosting some of Syria’s refugees.
As it moves ahead on its pledge to lead this global resettlement initiative, the United States should also continue to lead in the provision of critical assistance to refugees and refugee-hosting communities. U.S. leaders should in addition stress to Syria’s neighbors that they must allow refugees – many of whom are fleeing unspeakable dangers— to cross their borders.