A coalition of U.S. nongovernmental organizations on Friday urged President Barack Obama to do more to address the "spiraling refugee crisis in the Middle East," calling on the United States to resettle 100,000 Syrians fleeing a civil war now in its fifth year.
The group, Refugee Council USA, sent Obama a letter with recommendations (PDF) that included increasing the refugee resettlement cap — 70,000 in 2015 — to 200,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, including 100,000 Syrians. The council, based in Washington, D.C., consists of about 20 faith-based and secular organizations that focus on refugee protection.
"The United States' rising to the occasion now would both encourage European nations to live up to their refugee protection obligations and help to prevent further deterioration in the protection climate in the countries bordering on Syria that are currently hosting millions of Syrian refugees," the organization said in its letter.
The number of refugees fleeing to Europe has surged since 2013 as a result of wars in Syria and Iraq as well as conflicts and instability in Afghanistan and sub-Saharan Africa.
Tens of thousands have risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean to Italy or Greece before attempting to make their way to other parts of Europe.
Tens of thousands of refugees have been streaming across the Balkans, trying to make their way through Hungary and Austria en route to Germany and other more prosperous European nations. The bulk of those fleeing Syria have went to neighboring Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, creating a tremendous strain on those countries.
While the U.S. has provided the most financial assistance to alleviate the Syrian refugee crisis, it hasn’t done enough in terms of resettlement, according to Jennifer Sime, the vice president for U.S. programs at the International Rescue Committee.
"The U.S. response has been woefully lacking when it comes to resettlement — something that does not jive with this country’s proud tradition of being a leader in this field," she said.
The Refugee Council letter said that while the organization believes "the vast majority" of European countries have the capacity to handle refugees seeking safety, the U.S. "must show solidarity with its close allies in Europe."
The White House said last week it was making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees — a major increase from the 1,500 Syrians who have been cleared to resettle since war broke out in Syria in 2011. But the Rev. Earl Trent of the Church World Service, a Christian organization focused on refugees, called on Obama to "welcome in at least 100,000 Syrian refugees" and to "show the moral leadership that will put the United States on the right side of history."
"As we look at this crisis, we’re asking that we roll out the welcome mat here in America," Trent said. "It is our duty, it is our calling as a people of faith to open up our arms to all people — all people of all faiths — that they might seek safety from tyranny."