.- As the Obama administration announced Monday that the U.S. had met its goal of accepting 10,000 Syrian refugees in fiscal year 2016, religious freedom advocates voiced approval.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom praised the administration, hailing the accomplishment as “an important step, but only a first step, given the severity of the [Syrian] conflict, the implications for regional and international security, and the vulnerably of Syrian civilians who have been subjected to the most appalling mistreatment from both the Assad regime and its opponents, including ISIL.”
President Obama announced last fall that the U.S. would try to increase its intake of refugees from Syria to 10,000 in the fiscal year 2016, pointing to the humanitarian crisis that has unfolded there because of sustained conflict.
“We know that it certainly is not feasible for millions of Syrians to come to this country. But what we can do is make sure that we are doing everything we can to try to provide for their basic needs,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated.
Previously, the U.S. had accepted only about 2,000 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the civil war there, including 1,682 in fiscal year 2015 alone.
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the goal of 10,000 had been met: “Today, by committing additional resources to our refugee admissions process and maintaining our rigorous screening process and commitment to the security of the American people, we have reached that goal.”
The conflict in Syria has run for over five years and is not expected to end any time soon, having been estimated to have caused almost half a million deaths. It has created the largest number of refugees of any current conflict, with millions having fled the country and over 6 million currently displaced within Syrian borders. There have been over 4.7 million registered refugees from Syria, Catholic Relief Services noted.
After November terror attacks in Paris that killed 130 and injured hundreds, where a terrorist involved was later alleged to have entered Europe by posing as a Syrian refugee seeking asylum, many called for a halt on refugee resettlement in the name of national security.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump proposed a ban on Muslims entering the country until greater security precautions could be enforced. His running mate Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, tried to stop the resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state.
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis still resettled a Syrian refugee family under the direction of Archbishop Joseph Tobin, and against the wishes of Governor Pence.
Refugee resettlement experts had insisted at the time that the U.S. resettlement program was secure and did not need an overhaul or a temporary fix.
“A rigorous, multi-layered, and lengthy vetting and security clearance procedure is in place to screen refugees,” Dr. Susan Weishar, a migration fellow at the Jesuit Social Research Institute who directed immigration and refugee services for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans for 14 years, stated to CNA.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has also insisted that the resettlement system is secure, and had advocated for increasing the refugee intake.
“USCIRF has called for the United States to admit 100,000 refugees from Syria, subject to the refugee resettlement process' rigorous interviews and background checks,” USCIRF stated on Tuesday.
“This rigorous individual vetting allows the United States to welcome Syrian refugees, protect national security, and respond effectively, humanely and generously to this unprecedented challenge.”
Bill O’Keefe, Vice President for Advocacy at Catholic Relief Services, voiced similar views.
“We are pleased to see that the Obama administration has made good on its promise of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees within this fiscal year, but as a global leader we can, and we must, do better,” he said.
“In fact this is a relatively modest figure considering the global scale of the crisis and the amount of resources we have at our disposal to address it. The Administration should capitalize on the momentum they’ve built in recent months to speed up the admissions process by significantly increasing the target number of Syrian refugee admissions for the year ahead.”
Secretary Kerry also said on Monday that “more needs to be done” to remedy the humanitarian crisis in Syria.
“We recognize that more needs to be done to help those who are besieged inside Syria; more has to be done to assist refugees; more has to be done to support Syria’s neighbors, Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey; and more has to be done to resolve this brutal conflict that has cost far too many lives and forced far too many people from their homes,” he stated.
On September 20, President Obama will host the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, a high-level event on the margins of the UN General Assembly to increase humanitarian assistance and create more long-term, durable opportunities for refugees – not just for the millions of Syrian refugees, but for those fleeing intense strife and persecution in all places.