In the wake of last week’s bipartisan budget deal, Congress and the president have the chance to launch a sufficiently bold response to the Syrian refugee crisis.
While long overdue, U.S. leadership on this issue is more needed than ever. The world is facing the largest displacement of people since World War II. More than 4 million people have fled the brutal conflict in Syria, stretching the resources and infrastructures of Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants have made dangerous journeys to Europe—a humanitarian challenge to U.S. allies in Europe.
This is not only a humanitarian imperative but also a strategic one. Without an increase in humanitarian aid, development assistance, and refugee resettlement, the crisis may trigger greater instability in frontline states—including key U.S. allies like Jordan—and in the Middle East more broadly.
Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamTop admiral: North Korea crisis is 'worst I've seen' Comey to testify before Senate Judiciary Committee Overnight Defense: US moving missile defense system to South Korea | Dems want justification for Syria strike | Army pick pushes back against critics of LGBT record MORE (R-SC) has said that: “The massive flow of Syrian refugees is not just a terrible humanitarian crisis. It threatens the stability of our close allies in the region and poses a considerable challenge to our friends in Europe, which, ultimately, undermines our own security.”
After a recent visit to Greece and Germany, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenOvernight Cybersecurity: Anticipation builds for Trump cyber order | House panel refers Clinton IT contractor for prosecution | Pentagon warned Flynn about foreign payments Dem senator fears Russian election interference could be ‘normalized’ Russian interference looms over European elections MORE (D-N.H.) wrote, “[W]e must not allow Europe to stand alone at this time of crisis. As the leader of the Atlantic Alliance, the U.S. owes our allies generous support and partnership. It’s time for a more robust U.S. response to the greatest humanitarian challenge of our time.”
There is bipartisan support for increased appropriations to address the refugee crisis, as evidenced by the introduction of The Middle East Refugee Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act by Sens. Graham and Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyHollywood, DC come together for First Amendment-themed VIP party The Hill's 12:30 Report Lawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March MORE (D-Vt.). This bill would provide an extra $1 billion in emergency funding for humanitarian aid and resettlement of Syrian refugees. It would require the White House to report to Congress within 45 days on how it will use the money.
The funds to cover this initiative could be allocated from the additional funds included in the budget deal for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) and appropriated to the Departments of State, Homeland Security (DHS), and Health and Human Services (HHS). In fact, OCO funds have historically been used to boost resettlement and aid, and using them would be warranted given the scale of the Syrian refugee crisis. While additional funds will not resolve this crisis, they will help refugees living in frontline states, the states themselves, and U.S. communities welcoming refugees. It is critical that communities be supported with resources to help refugees integrate and thrive.
As DHS has repeatedly confirmed, the U.S. system for interviewing and vetting Syrian refugees is rigorous, with biometric and other checks conducted by multiple U.S. security agencies. As Frances Townsend, Homeland Security and Counter Terrorism adviser to former President George W. Bush noted in a recent piece in Foreign Policy, Congress must ensure that the law enforcement and intelligence agencies that conduct the vetting of Syrian refugees are provided with the necessary additional resources to perform these duties comprehensively and effectively.
On the contrary, such an initiative would strengthen U.S. national security by bolstering the stability of allies the Middle East, while relieving the suffering of innocent victims of the war in Syria. It would also support European allies and enhance America’s ability to press other states, including the Gulf States, to provide more assistance and host more refugees.
In other words, it would be a response worthy of a nation that should be leader on protecting refugees.
Acer is senior director of Refugee Protection at Human Rights First.