Obama Administration Resettles 2,406 Syrian Refugees in June, Halfway to Yearly Goal
New York City— The State Department today released official resettlement data for June, indicating that 2,406 Syrian refugees arrived last month, and bringing the fiscal year total to 5,211 Syrian arrivals. Nine months into the fiscal year, the U.S. government has now attained 50 percent of its modest goal to resettle “at least 10,000" Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016. This marks an increase in the pace of Syrian refugee arrivals over previous months, but does not reflect any reduction in the security vetting built into the system. Human Rights First welcomes the increase in resettlement arrivals, a trend which it expects to continue over the coming months as many refugees’ cases have been approved and are simply awaiting travel, but urges the Obama Administration to continue to take steps to address the delays and efficiency gaps that have undermined its ability to bring refugees to safety in the United States in a timely manner.
“The Obama Administration has made progress in addressing some of the backlogs and delays that have hampered its ability to resettle refugees, but with three months left in the fiscal year, it is still far from meeting its goal of resettling at least ten thousand Syrian refugees this fiscal year," said Human Rights First’s Eleanor Acer. “In order to lead the global community, and encourage other nations to do more, the United States must meet its modest goal of resettling ten thousand Syrian refugees this year and must provide stronger leadership on Syrian refugee resettlement over the next year.”
Human Rights First's April 2016 report, “At Least 10,000" details the slow progress the Obama Administration has made toward its goal of resettling at least ten thousand Syrian refugees by September 30, 2016. The report outlines how U.S. processing of resettlement cases, as well as processing of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications from individuals who worked with the U.S. military, have been hampered by bottlenecks, backlogs, and staffing gaps. As detailed in that report, addressing these backlogs would not undermine the security of the process; rather it would strengthen the integrity of the process which includes extensive security vetting.
U.S. agencies have begun to increase staffing levels focused on Syrian resettlement and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent additional officers to the region to conduct Syrian resettlement interviews. Government officials have confirmed that while they have taken steps to address some efficiency gaps in resettlement vetting, these steps have been taken while maintaining rigorous security screening and that "all applicants will still be subject to the same stringent security requirements that apply to all applicants for U.S. refugee resettlement.” Arrivals often spike at the end of the year, but the resettlement program would be better served by a steadier pace of arrivals throughout the year.
Recently, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that 4,700 Syrian refugees have been approved and are awaiting travel to the United States, while an additional 7,900 have progressed through part of the process and are now awaiting security review. With continued efforts to address systemic delays, efficiency gaps, and backlogs in the resettlement process, the United States could make significant progress toward its goal by the end of the fiscal year. President Obama will host a Leader’s Summit on Refugees at the United Nations on September 20th, and U.S. officials have stated that the administration seeks to work with other states to double the total number of resettled refugees and those afforded other legal channels of admission globally.
The U.S. pledge to resettle at least ten thousand Syrian refugees this fiscal year amounts to only about two percent of the 480,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement, and just 0.2 percent of the overall Syrian refugee population of over 4.8 million in the region around Syria. The large majority of these refugees have fled to neighboring states, including Jordan, Turkey, and Lebanon, straining these countries' infrastructures and threatening regional stability. More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees have been registered in Turkey, which is hosting the highest number of Syrian refugees. As Deputy National Security Advisor Avril Haines has explained, “The burdens associated with hosting large refugee populations often worsen existing problems—including poverty, ethnic and communal tensions, environmental degradation, and weak political institutions…The strain on these countries is enormous, as is the risk to global security.”
National security experts have explained that U.S. resettlement of Syrian refugees advances U.S. national security interests and would protect the stability of important U.S. allies in the region, as detailed in Human Rights First's February report, "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Need for U.S. Leadership." A December 2015 letter from a bipartisan group of 20 former U.S. national security advisors, CIA directors, secretaries of state, defense, and homeland security confirms this national security interest and that Syrian refugees are vetted more intensively than any other traveler to the United States.
In honor of World Refugee Day on June 20th, 30 of the nation’s most prominent national security leaders, retired military leaders, and former government officials, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, former National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, CIA Director General Michael Hayden, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), affirmed in a June 2016 Statement of Principles, “The United States has long been a refuge for those seeking safety and freedom, and for a simple reason: Americans believe their compassion and openness are sources not of weakness but strength. The demonstration of these qualities accords with the core ideals on which our nation was founded, and on which our greatness rests.”
For more information or to speak with Acer contact Corinne Duffy at DuffyC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3319.