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August 13, 2013

Resettlement of Syrians an Important Step in Supporting Syria’s Neighbors

On Thursday, the Obama Administration agreed to start resettling up to 2,000 Syrian refugees. With no end in sight to the war in Syria, and roughly two million people having fled to neighboring countries and beyond, this announcement is a welcome step that can provide life-saving protection to some of the most vulnerable refugees, including survivors of sexual violence and torture.

U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has compared the outflow to that of the Rwandan genocide. U.N. Refugee Agency statistics show that Lebanon hosts 677,965 Syrian refugees, Jordan 515,824 and Turkey 433,971 with Iraq and Egypt hosting over 100,000 each, and the numbers are likely even higher as some refugees do not formally register with the U.N. It is critical that the international community supports these countries, including through financial assistance and resettlement.

The United States has played a leading role in providing humanitarian assistance to those inside Syria as well as refugees within the region. In May the United States announced it would provide an additional $100 million in assistance such as food, shelter and health care to refugees and support for host communities, bringing to nearly $510 million American assistance since the beginning of the crisis. In addition, the United States has contributed significant bilateral aid to Jordan to assist it with the costs of hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees. U.S. financial support, along with Thursday’s announcement of increased resettlement, sends an important signal to Syria’s neighbors that the United States is committed to sharing the responsibility of resolving the crisis.

As the United States commences resettlement processing, Human Rights First urges it to:

  • Focus on resettling the most vulnerable refugees including those who are unable to access life-saving and specialized services for survivors of torture and sexual violence in the countries to which they have fled;
  • Monitor and support the capacity of the U.N. Refugee Agency  and its partners to identify the most vulnerable and at risk Syrian refugees who should be considered for resettlement;
  • Allocate staffing necessary, including for intelligence agencies, to provide timely and effective security background checks so that resettlement processing for vulnerable individuals is not unnecessarily delayed; and
  • Prioritize inter-agency coordination and attention to quickly implement the inadmissibility exemptions and other tools necessary so that the United States does not deny its protection to refugees who have stood up to, or been persecuted by, Syria’s repressive regime yet face potential bars to protection under U.S. immigration law even though they do not support terrorist activity and present no risk.

Statistics show that the United States resettled only 85 Syrian refugees between October 2010 and July 2013. While resettling 2,000 is a modest step, it should help encourage other states to join the effort. With resolution of the conflict a remote possibility, the United States along with other states and the U.N. Refugee Agency should develop and implement a long term plan to assist Syria’s refugees and displaced people. Given their acute needs, and the impact of this refugee crisis on Syria’s neighbors, effectively addressing the refugee crisis—and safeguarding access to international protection— should be a top priority for U.S. policymakers.