FORGET LEADING the way on Syrian refugee resettlement — the United States is barely making a dent in the worst refugee crisis since World War II.
As the region around Syria continues to buckle under the influx of 4.8 million refugees, the Obama administration is on track to fail to meet its initial target of admitting a mere 10,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the 2016 fiscal year. According to Human Rights First, as of April 5, halfway through the fiscal year, only 1,285 Syrian refugees had been resettled. This number represents a measly 12.9 percent of the 2016 goal. According to the report, understaffing in the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies and massive case backlogs have been hampering efforts to resettle more refugees.
A State Department spokesman told us that the “United States remains steadfastly committed to the president’s plan to resettle at least 10,000 Syrian refugees.” But while the administration says it is working to increase its capacity to interview refugee applicants in Lebanon and Jordan and shorten the processing time, it says that no changes will be made to the screening process.
The slow pace is a double failure. It’s not just that the United States is falling pathetically short of its own ideal of providing a haven to those fleeing persecution and violence. U.S. allies are in desperate need of help to share the burdens of the refugee crisis. Admitting more refugees would not only show U.S. leadership, but also help preserve the stability of the front-line societies.
Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon have accepted the most refugees, hosting 2.7 million, 638,000 and nearly 1.1 million, respectively. The arrivals are putting intense pressure on hospitals and schools. King Abdullah of Jordan said in February that his country was at a “boiling point,” adding: “Sooner or later, I think, the dam is going to burst.”
At a bare-bones minimum, the administration must do what is needed to meet its initial goal of 10,000, which represents just 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population of 4.8 million. But beyond that, it should dramatically increase its target goal so as to take in a fair share of the refugees fleeing the terror of the Islamic State and the Syrian civil war. In September, a bipartisan group of former U.S. government officials recommended that the United States increase its target to 100,000, closer to what an analysis by Oxfam concluded would be the U.S. “fair share” level of 163,392. Such a move would help relieve the suffering of desperate Syrians who are resigned to making life-threatening journeys across the sea into Europe, and send a needed signal to the rest of the world, and Europe in particular, about the urgency of fashioning Syrian refugee policies guided by compassion, instead of contempt.
As we have noted before, the United States has one of the most extensive refugee vetting processes. Homeland Security is tasked with performing background checks and conducting interviews, and each case can take between 18 and 24 months. If DHS needs more resources and staffing to sort through the backlog, then so be it; the Obama administration must provide the necessary funding. A continued failure to assist vulnerable Syrians will erode U.S. moral leadership and will be judged harshly for generations to come.
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