New York City—The State Department today released its official resettlement numbers for April, indicating that it resettled 451 Syrian refugees last month. This brings the seven-month total so far this fiscal year to 1,736 Syrian refugees, amounting to 17.4% of the 10,000 Syrian refugees the U.S. government has pledged to resettle by September 30, 2016.
“While the April numbers indicate a slight improvement in the pace of resettlement of vulnerable Syrian families, the United States is still alarmingly behind with more than 82% of its resettlement goal remaining for this fiscal year,” said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “U.S. agencies should enhance efforts to address the backlogs and delays that are hampering the country’s ability to meet its goals. The United States cannot lead by example unless the administration meets this year’s very modest goal and sets a more meaningful and ambitious goal for next year. As the world leader in refugee resettlement, the United States has the capacity and security processes in place to lead a comprehensive global effort to address the refugee crisis and resettle far beyond 10,000 Syrian refugees.”
Last month, Human Rights First released a new report detailing the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its goal of resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. The report 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, have 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.
The governors of New Jersey and Kansas have recently taken action to end state participation in the federal refugee resettlement program. These efforts will not prohibit federal resettlement of refugees in these states through local resettlement agencies. Human Rights First notes that these actions represent a counterproductive trend, sending the wrong message to U.S. allies who need help, as well as a rejection of American values and the longstanding U.S. tradition of welcoming the persecuted.
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.
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.