It seems that the U.S. media just recently stumbled upon the Syrian refugee crisis, more than four years after it began in March of 2011.
I consider myself a well-informed college student. But it is worrying that young adults in the United States, myself included, are so uninformed about the severity of the crisis and the refugees’ need for urgent help.
So here are some basics that you should know.
While the influx of hundred of thousands of Syrian refugees seeking asylum in Europe has made headlines, more than four million Syrians are currently refugees in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. The burden on a per capita basis is far higher in Syria’s neighboring countries than in Europe or the United States.
It should be noted that relatively few refugees — fewer than one percent worldwide, according to the United Nations — end up resettling in third countries, with the United States being the top resettlement destination. Most refugees live in camps in hopes of eventually returning home.
The United States has taken 1,500 Syrian refugees since the civil war began, while Europe has taken in hundreds of thousands. The United States is offering asylum to more Syrians, but the acceptance process is far from easy.
The United States currently accepts 70,000 refugees from around the world each year. The government has decided to increase that number to 85,000 in 2016 — including 10,000 Syrians — and to 100,000 in 2017, with potentially greater numbers in future years.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week voted to suspend the admission of Syrian refugees next year and then intensify the process of screening them. But it is not clear whether the legislation will clear the Senate and be sent to the White House, where it could be vetoed by U.S. President Barack Obama.
The Republican-backed measure in Washington followed attacks in Paris on November 13 that killed 130 people. A fake Syrian passport was found near one of the suicide bombers, prompting some Republican lawmakers to say there is a risk that some refugees could be militants keen to attack the United States.
However, the real identity of the suicide bomber is not yet known, and so it is not clear whether he was a refugee or not.
“Relatively few refugees end up resettling in third countries.”
While the U.S. administration’s refugee plan is being scrutinized, it is worth bearing in mind two points:
- Many experts recommend that the United States admit more refugees than under the administration’s plan.
- Not all of the admitted refugees will come from Syria. Some will be Africans seeking asylum from human rights threats and armed conflict.
Not surprisingly, there is a cost associated with welcoming refugees. This year, it is expected to cost $1.1 billion to relocate 70,000 refugees in the United States. Increased numbers would require a larger budget, which must be approved by Congress.
The refugee issue is sure to receive more attention as campaigning for the the U.S. presidential election, set for November 2016, gains momentum and candidates balance the needs of economic immigrants and refugees.
“Diversity enhances communities.”
Syrian refugees must wait up to two years before being cleared for resettlement in the United States, according to Prof. Maurizio Albahari of the University of Notre Dame. “The time necessary for security clearance, while arguably necessary, could be reduced by more coordination between U.S. governmental agencies, more personnel dedicated to this task, and even more office space.”
It is not always a simple transition as refugees can influence the culture of the communities in which they are placed. “Diversity only enhances communities by bringing a range of ideas, knowledge sets, food, culture, values and experiences that adds to the vitality of those communities,” said Carleen Miller, executive director of Exodus Refugee Immigration, a non-governmental organization in the U.S. state of Indiana.
It is a misconception that refugees do not pay taxes or that they take jobs from U.S. workers, according to Indiana’s Department of Health. Refugees must pay employment, property, sales and other taxes. They often take up jobs in sectors with an inadequate number of native workers or start new businesses, the department says on its website.
“Refugees have been a major force in contributing to the urban renewal of several major U.S. cities,” the department said.
Refugees and resettlement will continue to be major national global and national issues, so it is imperative that we young adults stay on top of developments in this crisis.
Kate O’Rourke is a third-year student at Indiana University in the United States, focusing on broadcast journalism, economics, mathematics and marketing. Last summer she interned with Emerge Poverty Free in London. Kate enjoys running, baking, and connecting with friends.