Thursday, November 12, 2015

HHH Ryan Allen on "What obstacles will Syrian refugees face in coming to the U.S.?"

Reprinted from MPR News Blog: http://blogs.mprnews.org/todays-question/2015/11/what-obstacles-will-syrian-refugees-face-in-coming-to-the-u-s/

President Obama announced in September that the U.S. would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees displaced by the country’s civil war over the next year. State lawmakers have made an effort to bring more Syrian refugees into the country, with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken co-signing a letter earlier this year that urged the president to accept 65,000.

Ryan Allen, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota specializing in refugee policy writes:

With approximately four million Syrian refugees living in countries like Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, there is no shortage of candidates to resettle in the U.S. However, in the short run Syrian refugees hoping to resettle in the U.S. will encounter obstacles that will constrain the number who ultimately come to call America home.

One of the obstacles is distance. The crisis that has precipitated the flow of Syrian refugees has occurred on Europe’s doorstep. As a result, there are clear, if perilous, pathways from the countries currently hosting Syrian refugees into Europe. In contrast, there are no obvious and quick routes for the refugees to make their way to America.

Of course, lack of proximity to the U.S. has not stopped large flows of refugees, including hundreds of thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia and Africa, from coming here in the past. In these cases, refugees traveled to the U.S. at the behest of the U.S. government through a system of refugee resettlement. Herein lays the second obstacle facing Syrian refugees hoping to resettle in the U.S.: lack of political will on the part of the U.S. government.

The Obama Administration has pledged to increase the number of refugees it will admit in the next two fiscal years, eventually reaching about 100,000 refugees admitted in a single year (though not all will be Syrians). Still this pales in comparison to feats of resettlement the U.S. has achieved in the past. For example, the U.S. accepted over 100,000 Vietnamese refugees shortly after the fall of Saigon at a time when we lacked a formal refugee resettlement program.

Of course, while President Obama has discretion over establishing a ceiling for the number of refugees the U.S. admits, only Congress can appropriate the funding necessary to conduct resettlement work. Congress seems to have little appetite to take on such a task. Many in the Obama Administration and Congress rightly point out the need to carefully screen refugees to ensure that we do not unwittingly admit refugees who might pose a security threat. Today, this screening process can take as long as two years. With additional resources and personnel it is likely that the time necessary to conduct this screening process could be significantly reduced, further underlining the lack of political will present within Congress.
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