While the Obama administration struggles to decide on military intervention against the Islamic State in Syria, it is also running the risk of ignoring the humanitarian crisis in the country.
On Tuesday, an Oxfam Briefing Paper accused the international community of failing Syria on three fronts, citing insufficient aid, meager resettlement offers and continued arms transfers. The report warns that only half of the $7.7 billion in humanitarian appeals for the country have been funded.
Oxfam criticizes several countries in the paper, but special attention is paid to the United States, which it says is neither contributing enough aid nor accepting enough refugees. Are Oxfam's criticisms fair? Let's take a look.
In July, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said the United States was the "the single-largest donor of humanitarian aid for the crisis." He wasn't wrong. Shown below are a select number of countries and the aid they allocated for Syria in 2014:
Oxfam's report, however, measures contributions differently.
It acknowledges the total money transferred by each country, but it also looks at the amount relative to the size of each donor nation's economy. Oxfam then calculates how much each country would have to spend individually to share the burden equally among the world's richest nations.
As the graph above shows, by Oxfam's standards, the U.S. aid to Syria is only 60 percent of what it should pay. It's not the worst, however. Italy, Japan and France have provided less than 35 percent of what Oxfam requests. In Russia's case, it's even more meager — just 1 percent.
Admission of refugees
Oxfam also calls on rich nations to resettle 5 percent of Syria's projected refugee population by the end of 2015. That's a big number — 184,500 people — and the United States is likely to play a major role, with its fiscal 2013 admission ceiling set at about 70,000 refugees, the largest in the world.
There's a problem, however. When the ceiling was decided last year, nobody predicted that the world would have to confront complex, parallel crises in Ukraine, South Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Nigeria and other countries just a few months later.
The U.S. ceiling for those coming from the Near East/South Asia (which includes Syria) is the highest for any region in the world. However, once that threshold is reached, only 2,000 spots can be allocated to undefined regions in response to crises, and the number of Syrians accepted this year has been meager.
Other countries have made big pledges to Syrian refugees. Germany has pledged to accept 26,400 Syrians by the end of 2015 (amounting to as much as 187 percent of Oxfam's calculated number for Germany), and tiny Austria wants to accept 1,500 (98 percent of Oxfam's 'fair share'). To meet Oxfam's requests, the United States would have to accept 65,476 Syrian refugees by the end of next year — a total comparable with the number of all refugees admitted since October.
So far, the United States has not specified the number of refugees it is willing to accept from Syria in the future — and it might take a while until a decision is reached. Unlike some other countries, the United States does not simply accept refugees but usually undertakes a particular resettlement program. In the past, the establishment of such programs has taken years — a very long time to wait considering the growing number of Syrian refugees.