Responding to the millions of Syrians who have fled their war-ravaged country in search of sanctuary, the Obama administration said Thursday that it would look to resettle “at least 10,000" Syrian refugees in the United States by the end of September 2016. The U.S. has taken in about 1,500 Syrians over the last 12 months, so the increase to 10,000 may seem significant. But it’s not, and refugee advocates rightly dismissed it as woefully inadequate given the scale of the humanitarian crisis.
Since the Syrian war began more than four years ago with a crackdown on political protesters tied to the Arab Spring movement, more than 11 million Syrians — half the nation’s population — have been forced from their homes. Most remain in the country, but 4 million have fled, landing primarily in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands have been making their way to Europe, creating a heartbreaking spectacle and a crisis of politics and will. The U.S. has donated $4 billion — far more than any other country — to refugee agencies and host governments to help support the displaced. Though the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reports that member nations have only met about 35% of its requested budget to deal with the crisis, the U.S. government’s generosity should be acknowledged.
But the nation’s, and the world’s, responsibility to aid so many people in such terribly dire straits requires that more be done, including allowing a higher number of Syrian refugees to resettle here under a long-standing humanitarian program that would give them permission to work upon their arrival and to seek citizenship after five years.
How many more the U.S. should accept is a sticky question. This year, Congress and the White House have agreed to take in no more than 70,000 refugees from around the world. In May, a group of 14 senators asked the administration to increase that cap by an additional 65,000 people and reserve the new slots for Syrians. The Refugee Council USA, composed of 20 advocacy organizations, on Wednesday urged the U.S. to accept a total of 200,000 refugees, including 100,000 Syrians. Given the scope of the suffering, the fact that the U.S. has historically accepted half the refugees processed by the UNHCR and the reality that even 200,000 people would be only a drop in the bucket in a country of more than 300 million, the right call would be to err on the side of compassion.
Critics of increasing Syrian resettlement say it could enable terrorists to slip into the U.S. But those accepted for resettlement go through two rigid reviews, first by the UNHCR and then by the Department of Homeland Security and other U.S. agencies, which should offer sufficient safeguards.
This page has long held that the preferred solution to end the Syrian crisis is a political one leading to stability. That seems a long way off, and the suffering is now. The U.S. must do more to alleviate it.