By Conor McGrath
Just over a week after the world awakened to images of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body splashed across newspaper front-pages, the Obama Administration announced that it will accept 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, twice the amount the United States had already pledged to take.
Finally, it seems, American officials are acting in the face of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. In addition to doubling its intake of Syrians, the United States might also end up raising its annual global refugee cap from 70,000 to 100,000 for the next fiscal year. This is promising news, but we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. The Administration has vowed that it will not relax the rigorous vetting standards all migrants must undergo. The process, which involves screening by the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, can take up to two years. This timeline dramatically slows down the refugee settlement process. So far only 1,400 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States, nearly all of them in 2014. Without a change in the entry process, it’s unclear how quickly the Administration can fulfill its promise.
The Administration’s pledge is relatively minimal when compared with other Western countries. Despite having significantly smaller populations, France and the United Kingdom each plan to take in twice as many refugees as President Obama announced. Germany expects to accommodate 800,000 refugees this year with plans to take in 500,000 more annually for several years to come. Earlier this week, the European Commission unveiled a plan to distribute 160,000 refugees across the continent, in spite of fierce oppositions from the governments of Hungary and many other southern and eastern European states.
The administration’s lackluster response to the crisis has become an issue in the 2016 presidential race. Martin O’Malley, a candidate vying for the Democratic nomination for President, said the United States should take in at least 65,000 refugees from Syria, the minimum number recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Hillary Clinton was less committal, but nonetheless said in a recent interview that a “global effort” is needed to address the refugee crisis. Senators Bob Corker and Lindsay Graham also voiced support for the United States to take a larger role. The 65,000 refugee figure is a good start, but that number only comprises about half of those identified by UNHCR as in need of immediate resettlement.
If the United States is unwilling to take in more refugees, it can at least finance the resettlement of those affected to other places. UNHCR recommends that $5.5 billion is needed to support the 4.5 million refugees in Syria’s neighboring countries alone. So far, the international community has contributed $1.2 billion, far short of that goal. While the Obama Administration has pledged $507 million to fund the massive refugee camps along the Syrian border, more monetary aid is needed. With Congress currently deadlocked over financing the US government, there is little prospect for additional assistance. As a nation who frequently assumes the mantle of global leadership, it is discouraging to see the United States do so little.
After announcing that her nation will take in hundreds of thousands of refugees, German Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed “No one will question the dignity of our people”. The decision to accept so few refugees in comparison calls America’s dignity into question. The United States has historically branded itself as a refuge for so many. Further supporting refugee relocation efforts to alleviate the expanding crisis will uphold its constructive international presence and make a positive difference in millions of lives.
Conor McGrath is a senior studying International Affairs with a concentration in Comparative Politics. He spent a semester abroad at Sciences Po, Paris where he studied European politics and the EU integration process. After graduating, he plans to pursue a Masters degree in Public Administration.