Since civil war erupted in Syria in 2011, more than nine million Syrians have left their home country to escape the violence and poverty the war has wrought.
Lebanon, a country half the size of New Jersey, has opened its borders to one million of these refugees, causing its population to surge by 26%. Across the rest of the region, some three million more Syrians have fled out of Syria and into countries like Jordan, Turkey and Iraq. Approximately 6.5 million Syrians have been displaced within the borders of their own country.
Syrians now constitute the world’s largest refugee population, creating a humanitarian crisis of near-unprecedented scale.
About 20% of all international migrants reside in the United States–which is less than 5% of the world’s population. So why has the United States — the nation known for centuries as a safe haven for refugees and immigrants — only accepted a little more than 900 refugees from Syria?
According to Newsy.com, the U.S. lags far behind many of its allies and other Western nations when it comes to helping Syrians. In 2014, for example, the U.S. accepted more than 69,000 refugees from across the globe, yet just 105 of these came from Syria.
And as Syria’s neighbor nations, filled beyond their capacity with refugees, begin to close off their borders and strengthen restrictions on entry into their countries, there will soon be tens of thousands of people left with no place to go.
Part of the U.S.’s reluctance to allow Syrian refugees into the country could be a case of good old post-9/11 Islamophobia.
“I think this would be a huge mistake if we bring in these refugees into the United States that could be potentially radicalized,” Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, said. Basically, McCaul implied, all Syrian refugees must secretly be working for the Islamic State or al Qaeda, and therefore shouldn’t be allowed into the country.
Additionally, the screening process to resettle refugees is lengthy, often taking at least a year before a refugee can be accepted into another country. First, one must be recommended by the U.N. Human Rights Council in order to apply for refugee status. Then one must undergo extensive background checks, interviews medical checks and more — all for a plane flight that may or may not actually happen.
The U.S. Department of State is currently in talks to speed up this process, hoping to let as many as 2,000 Syrian refugees into the country by the end of 2015. Even so, there will still be countless other Syrians left without a place to go. The U.S. has received 12,000 refugee referrals total from the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Despite the U.S.’s limited acceptance of refugees, it can say something no other country can. With America having put more than $4 billion in aid toward Syria’s humanitarian situation, we’re still the top source of financial aid to citizens of the embattled nation.
Yet there’s still no denying that the U.S., along with many other countries, could be doing much more to help those whose homes have been destroyed by war.