The recent publicity surrounding the humanitarian effects of the Syrian civil war has many angrily wondering what America's role in the refugee crisis is, as European countries suffer under the strain of taking in people. Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there are an estimated 4 million Syrian refugees spread across the globe, while 7.6 million other Syrians are displaced within their own country. Those looking for safety from the conflict have fled to the rest of Europe, but many countries aren't equipped to handle them.
But the harsh realities of the crisis are becoming difficult to ignore — earlier this summer, an abandoned truck was discovered in Austria containing the corpses of more than 70 refugees attempting to make it into Germany. Photos have circulated of two young refugees — both under the age of 6 — who drowned with their mother while attempting to escape. As a result, many countries, including the United States, are being asked to address the crises by various humanitarian groups.
Some, like Germany, have more than answered the call. According to Angela Merkel, the country will accept as many as 800,000 refugees this year. Meanwhile, U.S. officials have cleared approximately 1,500 since 2011, with the majority arriving this year, according to The Guardian.
But that's not to say that U.S. lawmakers are ignoring the refugee's plight. America is still the largest donor in terms of Syrian relief, providing up to $4 billion in humanitarian aid, according to NPR. In addition to providing funds and resources, the United States has also given aid to countries that have large influxes of refugees, such as Jordan and Lebanon. Jordan, which has taken in over 650,000 refuges received $1 billion in loans to help combat the strain on resources, while Lebanon — which has taken in more than a million individuals — received $74 million.
And U.S. efforts to take more refugees are expected to increase as well. In August, the State Department announced that America would play host to between 5,000 to 8,000 refugees in the coming year. While it's a far cry from the 60,000 to 70,000 refugees that organizations like Oxfam America and the International Rescue Committee would like to see the country take in, it's still a significant increase.
The major issue with harboring more refugees lies within the strict screening process that individuals must undergo before they can enter the country. Refugees must be cleared by multiple agencies, including the Department of Defense and the FBI, and some lawmakers protest bringing in more refugees in light of safety concerns. According to The Guardian, in 2013, the United States only accepted 36 refugee applications.
It would appear the U.S. tactic for approaching the crisis is to offer relief and funds, but not resettlement opportunities. "What we're really committed to is helping to foster the kind of political transition inside Syria, so that it is a safe environment for Syrian people to return," State Department spokesman John Kirby told NPR in August.
But as Europe struggles to accommodate refugees, some U.S. lawmakers have called for increased aid and looser screening processes in order to expedite the process. “While the United States is the largest donor of humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees, we must also dramatically increase the number of Syrian refugees that we accept for resettlement,” wrote a group of 14 senators in a letter to President Obama in May, according to The Hill. The group, led by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, went on to say, "We urge your Administration to work to accept at least 50 percent of Syrian refugees whom UNHCR is seeking to resettle, consistent with our nation’s traditional practice under both Republican and Democratic presidents."
Though it is unlikely that America will ever match the number of refugees taken in by Germany, the Obama administration may be pressured by European allies into making further accommodations. But given the complexities of our current immigration system, introducing thousands of Syrian refugees into the country will likely be a difficult — and highly contentious — task.