Time for U.S. Leadership on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Posted by Annie-Marie Gergi on July 14, 2015 in Blog

Syrian_refugees.jpgAccording to a recent UNHCR report there are currently 4,013,292 refugees who are directly affected by the conflict in Syria. Women and children make up three quarters of the refugee population.

On December 9, 2014, UNHCR called on governments around the world to provide resettlement and other forms of admission for 130,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016. The United States in response to the crisis is reviewing 9,000 applications from Syria, and State Department officials have stated that in 2015 the number of Syrian refugees that have been resettled into the United States has reached over 1,000. By fall of this year officials expect to accept 2,000.

Germany continues to resettle the largest number of Syrian refugees among European countries, providing the humanitarian
admission of 20,000 Syrian refugees and the individual sponsorship of 15,000. Germany provides over two thirds of the total zaatari_camp.jpgresettlement placements offered across the EU. One may wonder, why does the United States, the most powerful nation in the world, only consider resettling such a limited number of Syrian refugees? How can the U.S. be passive in the face of one of the greatest international humanitarian crises since the end of WWII? The refugee crisis not only affects the people of Syria but is also spilling over to neighboring countries, such as tiny and increasingly unstable Lebanon with a total of 1,172,753 million refugees currently residing there. The global community, particularly the U.S., has a moral responsibility to reduce the suffering of these civilians.

U.S. officials are worried that the lack of intelligence within Syria may affect our ability to vet refugees properly. In addition, it is believed that the growth of foreign extremist fighters in Syria may motivate terrorist attempts to exploit the resettlement programs and carry out attacks in the homeland. Although a risk may exist, there is a tendency to greatly exaggerate that threat instead of helping desperate war weary refugees. None of the major terrorist plots since 9/11 have involved refugees.

It is important to treat these refugees as people in need of help, not as potential terrorists. The majority of these men, women, and children are fleeing their homes in order to survive. The response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria should be based on facts, not fear. Historically, the United States has often led the way and alleviated the suffering of victims. In the case of the Syrian refugees, the U.S. should get back to being true to its values.

Annie-Marie Gergi is an intern with the Arab American Institute