The United States has vowed to help its European allies with the influx of migrants and refugees coming in from Middle Eastern and African countries ravaged by war, famine, and poverty. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet today (Sep. 9) with congressional lawmakers behind closed doors to discuss how many refugees the US government is willing to take in.
Many of the new European arrivals are coming from Syria, where a lengthy civil war has forced more than 4 million people to flee the country. Refugee camps in neighboring Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon are overflowing, and many Syrian families have decided to make a dangerous–and sometimes deadly–journey to the north.
But the US has been slow to help, only resettling about 1,400 Syrian refugees during the nearly five-year-long war, according to the International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization that helps to resettle refugees. Official US data shows that Syrians are far down on the list of US refugees, with a mere 36 people arriving in 2013, the most recent year available. The top countries of origin for US refugees in 2013 were Iraq (28% of all refugees), Burma (23%) and Bhutan (13%). Syria (not shown below) is in 26th place.
After a refugee reaches in the United States, they may seek asylum status, a special form of protection. The US granted asylum to 811 Syrians in 2013, or 3.2% of the total.
“The US has historically been the world leader in recognizing the moral obligation to resettle refugees. But in the four years of the Syria crisis there has been inertia rather than leadership,” said David Milliband, the head of the International Rescue Committee, in a statement sent to Quartz.
To be fair, massive US resettlement programs were usually related to US-led wars (especially in Vietnam, Kosovo, and Iraq), and the US has mostly avoided significant involvement in Syria’s bloody conflict. However, much of the current migration crisis can also be traced to the chaos in post-Qaddafi Libya, where the US played a much larger role.
In August, the State Department said the country would take in from 5,000 to 8,000 Syrian refugees next year. But with the escalating crisis, this number is a drop in the ocean, and US lawmakers–and even some presidential candidates–are now calling for the country to take in more people.