Only 31 Syrian refugees — out of an estimated 2.3 million — were
allowed into the United States in the fiscal year that ended in
At a Senate hearing a week before an international donors conference
in Kuwait, U.S. officials and senators discussed the crisis in
Syria, and the burden of housing hundreds of thousands of refugees
for neighboring countries such as Jordan and Lebanon.
"This is the world's worst ongoing humanitarian crisis and the worst
refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and perhaps since
World War Two," said Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, chairman of
the Senate subcommittee on human rights, who said the United States
has a "moral obligation" to assist.
So far, 135,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in the United
States. But strict restrictions on immigration, many instituted to
prevent terrorists from entering the country, have kept almost all
of them out.
Washington has provided $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance to
aid Syrian refugees.
The United Nations is also trying to relocate this year 30,000
displaced Syrians it considers especially vulnerable.
Witnesses testified that Washington would normally accept half, but
they do not expect significant numbers to be admitted this year
despite the extent of the crisis.
"SUICIDE OF SYRIA"
"We've seen a country lose about 35 years of development. In a sense
it's the suicide of Syria," said Anne Richard, the assistant
secretary of state for population, refugees and migration.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the top Republican on the subcommittee, said
he was particularly concerned about the plight of Christian refugees
and said they should be considered as Washington decides how to deal
with the demand for more visas.
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Durbin, Cruz and other senators said Washington should remain
zealous about screening would-be immigrants to make sure that no
potential terrorists were allowed into the United States as part of
any program for Syrians.
However, several said they believed it was possible.
"I think we should be making it easier, while still checking
everything that we need to check," Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy
The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives last year engaged in a
bitter debate over whether Washington should intervene to assist
rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Durbin in September was one of several members of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee who voted to authorize limited military
intervention to punish Assad's government for a chemical weapons
attack on civilians.
But plans for any U.S. military action were put on hold after Syria
agreed to abandon its chemical weapons. The war has raged on, but
the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on
Tuesday Damascus had started moving chemical weapons materials out
of the country.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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