The United States has admitted 12,500 refugees from war-
ravaged Syria over the past year, surpassing President Obama’s target, and expects to admit even more next year, a State Department official said Tuesday.
The Syrians are among 85,000 refugees from all over the world who have been resettled in the fiscal year that ends late this week, said Ann Richard, the assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. That is up from 70,000 in the previous year. The White House aims to admit 110,000 refugees over the next 12 months.
Though goals are typically set for regions rather than specific countries, Obama last September asked the State Department to admit 10,000 Syrians in response to the humanitarian crisis consuming the country after five years of conflict.
“This administration has been clear it wants more Syrians,” Richard told reporters. “My guidance is we want to bring even more than we brought this year, without having a target.”
At the United Nations last week, Obama hosted a summit in which the leaders of 49 countries pledged more humanitarian aid, education opportunities and legal jobs for Syrian refugees in their midst.
In addition, the State Department said Tuesday that it will provide an additional $364 million in humanitarian aid to Syrians affected by the war. Richard said about three-quarters of that would be directed inside Syria, with the rest going to agencies working elsewhere in the region.
Since the conflict broke out following anti-government protests in 2011, the United States has provided $5.9 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrians, including the latest contribution.
Secretary of State John F. Kerry has been frustrated by his inability to secure a cease-fire in the war so that humanitarian supplies can be delivered and U.N.-mediated peace talks can eventually resume in Geneva. State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said that Kerry considers it “diplomatic malpractice” to close the door to diplomacy even as Russian and Syrian warplanes pummel Aleppo and that he intends to keep pursuing a truce in the four remaining months of his term.
Admitting refugees has been one of the most controversial aspects in the administration’s management of the Syrian crisis, even though the vast majority are women and children.
More than 30 Republican governors have said they are not welcome in their states, fearful that terrorists could be in their ranks. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for a suspension of immigration from countries where terrorism is prevalent.
The Syrians have been resettled in 180 cities and towns across the United States, usually in places with plentiful jobs and low-cost housing. Richard said local officials have expressed interest in accepting Syrians for resettlement.
“Refugees tend to be very successful once they get to the U.S.,” Richard said. “Not in the short term, but definitely in the medium and longer term.”
In countries neighboring Syria, where millions have sought safe haven, Syrians are referred to the United States by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. It can take one or two years to complete several rounds of security checks. State Department officials say the process is comprehensive and lengthy to discourage would-be terrorists.