In Syrian Refugee Crisis, Resettlement Viewed as a Way Forward

Amali Tower | October 30, 2013

With the international community deadlocked over a political solution to the ongoing Syrian civil war, the humanitarian community turns to refugee resettlement as a way forward to protect more than two million refugees created by the crisis.

The conflict is now widely regarded as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, burdening refugee host countries – Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq – beyond their respective capacities. A further 4.25 million civilians are thought to be internally displaced within Syria’s borders, and the refugee populations in neighboring countries threaten to diminish development and increase poverty.

As a way forward, this month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that 17 countries, including the United States, have agreed to receive quotas of Syrian refugees into their borders.

In total, the countries have offered about 10,000 resettlement places, many intended to be resettled within the 2014 calendar year. Given that over 5,000 civilians flee the Syrian conflict daily, it is expected that 10,000 resettlement slots will not meet the needs on the ground. As such, UNHCR will profile need based on vulnerability, including prioritizing women and children, and cases with disabilities, single-headed households and victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

The United States indicated that it needs more time before committing to a specific Syrian resettlement quota, however in August, the U.S. signaled that it was prepared to permanently resettle up to 2,000 Syrian refugees. Traditionally, the US admits refugees found in protracted situations – that is refugees borne out of a conflict five years or longer.

Some in Congress have lobbied the US government to increase its resettlement efforts, citing that only a few dozen Syrian refugees have resettled in the US since the conflict began. An advocate for stronger resettlement, US Congressman Adam Schiff has called on the government to grant “humanitarian parole authority” to nearly 6,000 Syrian nationals with approved immigrant visa petitions and families residing in the US.

Apparently, the US government has launched “discussions” with UNHCR and other resettlement countries on the resettlement of vulnerable Syrian refugees, and stands ready to accept UNHCR referrals. However, as with all refugee resettlement, Syrian refugee applicants will undergo robust security screenings.

While this presents some good news for a few thousand Syrian refugees, for millions of Syrians, solutions remain elusive. The UN high commissioner for refugees has advocated for a stronger international response, one that shifts from emergency humanitarian relief to longer development-related interventions.

While this is a welcome call in the right direction, ultimately, the only long-term solution to the millions displaced by Syria’s conflict will be a political solution that requires the UN Security Council to speak unanimously and bring about a negotiated solution to this conflict.

Amali Tower, Associate Director for Pre-Arrival Services, CWS Immigration and Refugee Program