The U.S. has finally decided to join Europe in pledging to gradually increase the number of worldwide refugees it will accept from 70,000 to 85,000 in 2016; and eventually to 100,000 in 2017. This will allow the U.S to fulfill its latest promise to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. But just how significant is this change in policy for Syrian refugees? Just weeks ago the U.S. had already quietly pledged to accept 5,000 to 8,000 Syrians for resettlement.
What many do not realize is that the UNHCR, the agency that screens candidates and initiates the U.S. resettlement process, had already selected and referred more than 17,000 Syrians for resettlement in the U.S. The security process can take at least 1 to 2 years for completion before arrival in the U.S. For hopeful Syrians who think the U.S. is slowly opening its doors, they will be in for a disappointment. In reality only .25 percent of the ever-growing refugee population will benefit from this announcement by 2016. The U.S.’s current acceptance of only roughly 1,700 Syrians since 2011 has been shocking compared to the millions that have found refuge in the Middle East and Europe. The new policy provides a small improvement, but it does little to alleviate the global refugee crisis.
More than 85,000 Americans have called for the U.S. to accept 65,000 Syrian refugees. 72 House Democrats have demanded the resettlement of 100,000 Syrian refugees by 2016, as a “moral duty,” consistent with the recommendations of numerous refugee organizations. This appeal was followed by a similar request from over 20 senior officials urging that admitting 100,000 Syrian refugees would be a “responsible exercise in burden sharing.” Additionally, more than 150 national and local refugee, human rights and faith based organizations have proposed the 100,000 figure. These numbers are a better place to start, and there is resounding support for such a change across America. The U.S. must do more than pay lip service to save face before the international community. The ability of the U.S. to regain credibility as the world’s leader in refugee resettlement will lie in its proposed numbers and true impact. The U.S. does not need a divisive political solution to save Syrian refugee lives — only one that is sincere, humanitarian, and rises to the occasion.