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Why America does not take in more Syrian refugees

The Levant News — MORE THAN 12m Syrians have been forced from their homes by the civil war, according to the United Nations. Of those, more than 7.5m have been displaced within Syria, often to parts of the country that aid organisations cannot reach. More than 4m have fled abroad, mostly to neighbouring countries. Around 1.9m are in Turkey, 1.1m in Lebanon and 650,000 in Jordan. And hundreds of thousands have sought refuge in Europe. Having initially welcomed tens of thousands of newcomers, Germany is growing increasingly reluctant to take in more. By the end of the year it expects to have 1.5m asylum seekers, many of them Syrian. Meanwhile America—26 times larger, with a population four times the size of Germany’s—has taken in only 1,500 Syrians since the start of the war.

Under pressure from Germany and other allies, the White House recently promised to increase America’s total intake of refugees to 85,000 in the next fiscal year (10,000 will be from Syria) and to 100,000 in the one after that (see article). Even this very modest rise has been contested. Michael McCaul, who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, introduced a bill to “rein in” the administration’s plan to admit more Syrian refugees. “I can’t support a policy that would allow a jihadist pipeline into the United States,” the Texas Republican told Fox News, a conservative television channel.

This is a stark expression of the reason America does not want to give refuge to more Syrians. In addition to concerns about the cost of resettling destitute newcomers who speak little English, America is deterred by fears of terrorism. Since the attacks on September 11th 2001 all immigrants and newcomers have been viewed through this lens, says Eva Millona at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. And the much more extensive vetting procedures of refugees introduced after those attacks are expensive. After refugees are referred by an American embassy or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they are screened by Department of State Resettlement Service Centers all over the world. They undergo multiple investigations of their biographies; biometric checks of their fingerprints and photographs; in-depth interviews by highly trained Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings as well as investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center and by intelligence agencies. The entire process can take longer than three years.

If a potential terrorist is determined to enter America to do harm, there are easier and faster ways to get there than by going through the complex refugee resettlement process. Of the almost 750,000 refugees who have been admitted to America since 9/11, only two Iraqis have arrested on terrorist charges; they had not planned an attack in America, but aided al-Qaeda at home. Syrians in America have fared better than other groups of refugees, integrating quickly and finding work. Some have done very well indeed: the father of Steve Jobs, the ground-breaking innovator and founder of Apple, was a refugee from Syria. And the mother of Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian, is of Jewish Syrian descent.

Source: The Economist

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