CWS statement to the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee Hearing on Syrian Refugees

June 24, 2015

Church World Service, a 69-year old humanitarian organization representing 37 Christian denominations, works to assist refugees through protection internationally and by providing resettlement services to help refugees adjust to their new lives and integrate in the United States.

The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is a lifesaving, public-private partnership that helps rescue refugees who have no other means of finding safety. To be considered a refugee, individuals must prove that they have fled persecution due to their nationality, ethnicity, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Refugees face three options: return to their home country, integrate in the country to which they first fled, or be resettled to a third country. For the millions who are unable to return home due to significant threats to their safety and are rejected by the country to which they first fled, resettlement is the last resort. While less than one percent of the world’s estimated 15 million refugees are resettled to a third country, resettlement saves lives and also helps encourage other countries to provide durable solutions for refugees within their borders, including local integration. The U.S. has a long history of providing protection to persons fleeing persecution, and U.S. communities, schools, congregations, and employers welcome refugees and help them integrate in their new homes. In turn, refugees contribute to their new communities with their innovative skills, dedicated work, and inspiring perseverance.

Currently, Syria is experiencing the worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in twenty years, with approximately 4 million refugees who have fled the country and 7.6 million internally displaced. Roughly three-quarters of those displaced are women and children. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt currently host more than 3.9 million registered Syrian refugees and thousands more who are not registered. Specifically, religious minorities living in ISIS-held territories, including Christians, Yezidids, Shabaks, Turkoman Shiites, Coptic Christians, Druze, Mandeans and Assyrians have fled in the thousands. While this crisis is complex and requires a variety of solutions, refugee resettlement plays a strategic role in alleviating pressure on host countries in the region, galvanizing international awareness of the human costs of the crisis, and providing durable solutions and opportunities for a new life for vulnerable populations fleeing persecution. Many European countries have welcomed Syrians through resettlement and humanitarian admissions schemes, including Germany pledging to accept 30,000; Sweden to resettle 2,700 and with more than 9,000 asylum applications pending; and Norway, France, Austria, Finland and other countries working to provide protection and resettlement to Syrian refugees. While traditionally a world leader in refugee resettlement, the United States has resettled only a small numbers of Syrian refugees.

The refugee resettlement program is the most difficult way to enter the United States, routinely taking individuals referred to the program longer than 1,000 days to be processed. Security measures are intrinsic to the integrity of the refugee program, and over the years, the U.S. government has continuously fine-tuned the system to maximize domestic security. All refugees undergo thorough and rigorous security screenings prior to arriving to the United States, including but not limited to multiple biographic and identity investigations; FBI biometric checks of applicants’ fingerprints and photographs; in-depth, in-person interviews by well-trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings; and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies, including additional biographical screening by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) since August 2011. In addition, mandatory supervisory review of all decisions; random case assignment; inter-agency national security teams; trained document experts; forensic testing of documents; and interpreter monitoring are important checks in place to maintain the security of the refugee resettlement program.

CWS urges the United States to welcome refugees and asylum seekers impacted by the Syrian conflict and ensure access to resettlement by the most vulnerable Syrian refugees, with special attention to women and girls, children in adversity, and other highly vulnerable populations. CWS stands committed to working with both chambers of Congress and the Administration to resettle Syrian refugees as part of our foreign policy interests and humanitarian responsibilities. We urge all Members of Congress to support these efforts to provide safety to vulnerable refugees from Syria and beyond.