International Rescue Committee calls on U.S. to take ‘emergency measures’ and resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees in 2014

In conjunction with today’s congressional hearing on Syrian refugee resettlement, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is calling for emergency measures to authorize the resettlement of 12,000 Syrian refugees to the United States in 2014, rising to 15,000 in 2015.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has called on the international community to resettle 30,000 vulnerable Syrian refugees in 2014. With existing commitments from other countries to resettle Syrians currently standing at approximately 18,000, the IRC, which has resettled 77,000 refugees in the US in the last 10 years, is calling on the United States to resettle the remaining 12,000.

This would require presidential and congressional authorization* for the annual quota for 2014 to be immediately increased from 70,000 to 80,000, with the existing ‘unallocated’ reserve of 2,000 to be committed to Syrian refugees.

David Miliband, IRC president and CEO, said:

“The Syrian war is the defining humanitarian crisis of our time. Now is the time not just for diplomacy and aid but for a clear resettlement policy for the neediest Syrian refugees to come to the U.S. The U.S. has historically led global refugee resettlement efforts, and can do so again by immediately extending its current quota for all refugee resettlement in 2014 by creating an allocation for 12,000 Syrians in desperate need of help.

“Resettlement is no panacea – it helps thousands when the number affected is in the millions. But every life saved for those suffering desperate persecution or medical need is a contribution to the larger effort to alleviate suffering in the region. It is a statement of commitment as well as humanity.

“The neighboring countries are beyond what in the west would be considered the breaking point. The refugee influx into Lebanon – more than 800,000 out of a population of 4.5 million – is the equivalent of 60 million people coming to the U.S. The cost of the crisis to the Lebanese economy alone is estimated by the World Bank at $7.5bn. It is time for the rest of the world to step up and for the U.S. to lead by example.

“Resettlement is part of an international effort of help for the Syrian people and the neighboring countries already hosting them. To succeed, the international community must provide additional resources to enable UNHCR to create the systems to handle resettlement applications, while the US government will need to ensure domestic funding is available for when refugees arrive.

“Resettlement of 15,000 Syrians per year would not be an unprecedented effort – in 2013 alone the U.S. resettled over 19,000 Iraqis and over 16,000 Burmese. Since 2006, the U.S. has resettled more than 97,000 Iraqis and more than 117,000 Burmese. And at the IRC’s urging in the early 1960s, President Kennedy created 10,000 places for Chinese refugees, who, with their descendants, have made significant contributions to American society.”

Sharon Waxman, Vice President for Advocacy and Policy at the IRC, who worked on the resettlement program for Refugee Subcommittee Chairman Senator Kennedy and also helped oversee it while serving at the Department of State, said:

“We urge resettlement countries to at a very minimum meet UNHCR’s proposal to resettle 30,000 Syrians this year. That is only 1.27 percent of the total number of refugees who have fled to date, and an even smaller percentage of the 4.1 million if those Syrians projected to be refugees by the end of next year. More than 2 million refugees have fled the country, and UNHCR estimates that an average of 127,000 people travel across Syria’s border each month in search of safe haven. While the absolute priority is to end the conflict and for refugees to return home to a peaceful life – in many cases this will be impossible.

“Rebuilding Syria to accommodate a return of what may be more than 10 million displaced – half of its prewar population – will be an immense reconstruction effort. Refugees want to return home, but it could be years before they are able to do so. For many Syrians – as Iraqis before them – there will be no homes and no familiar neighborhoods to return to, no savings and jobs to rebuild their lives. The most vulnerable fearing persecution ought to be resettled now.”

Notes to Editor:

*relevant text from the Immigration and Nationality Act (which is the legal framework regulating admission of refugees to the U.S.):

(b) If the President determines, after appropriate consultation, that (1) an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists, (2) the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest, and (3) the admission to the United States of these refugees cannot be accomplished under subsection (a), the President may fix a number of refugees to be admitted to the United States during the succeeding period (not to exceed twelve months) in response to the emergency refugee situation and such admissions shall be allocated among refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States in accordance with a determination made by the President after the appropriate consultation provided under this subsection.

About the International Rescue Committee:

A global leader in humanitarian assistance, the International Rescue Committee works in more than 40 countries offering help and hope to refugees and others impacted by violent conflict and disaster. During crises, IRC teams provide health care, shelter, clean water, sanitation, learning programs for children and special aid for women. As emergencies subside, the IRC stays to revive livelihoods and help shattered communities recover and rebuild. Every year, the IRC also helps resettle thousands of refugees admitted into the United States, in 22 cities across the country. A tireless advocate for the most vulnerable, the IRC is committed to restoring hope, dignity and opportunity. For more information, visit Follow the IRC on Twitter: @theIRC, @IRCPress.

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