Durbin Holds Hearing on Syrian Refugee Crisis

2.3 Million Refugees Have Fled Civil War; Worst Refugee Crisis Since Rwanda in 1994

Washington, D.C. – Assistant Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, held a hearing today on the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.


“The ongoing civil war in Syria has created the world’s worst humanitarian and refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide and perhaps since World War II,” Durbin said. “Of the nearly 2.3 million Syrian refugees that have fled the bloody civil war, nearly half are children. While the United States has led the world in resettling and providing humanitarian assistance to refugees from conflicts around the globe, we’ve not done enough to address the current Syrian crisis. In particular, the Obama Administration should use the authority Congress gave it to exempt deserving Syrians from the overly broad immigration bars that prevent legitimate refugees from finding safe haven in the United States. While there may be differences about how to resolve the conflict, there should be no disagreement that it is a moral and national security imperative to do all we can to help alleviate the suffering of innocent Syrian refugees.”


Today’s hearing focused on the plight of Syrian refugees fleeing the violent civil war in their home country. Approximately 2.3 million Syrian refugees have fled the country since the outbreak of the civil war.  Of these refugees, three-quarters are women and children, including 1.1 million children.


The crisis has been particularly difficult for children. Many of these young refugees are living in temporary and often unheated shelters. Thousands of children are unaccompanied or separated from their parents. There have been reports of young boys being recruited as child soldiers and young girls being forced into early marriages.


The United States has already provided $1.3 billion in humanitarian assistance and aid to Syrian refugees, making it the largest donor in the world. Other countries have made huge sacrifices. For example, Lebanon is hosting more than 860,000 Syrian refugees – more than 20 percent of Lebanon’s population. This is equivalent to the United States accepting 60 million refugees.


Last year the United States accepted only 31 Syrian refugees. UNHCR is seeking to resettle approximately 30,000 particularly vulnerable Syrian refugees in FY 2014. The United States typically accepts about half of resettled refugees.


One issue that prevents the U.S. from accepting more refugees are the overly broad bars in our immigration law that exclude any refugee who has provided any kind of support to any armed rebel group, even a group supported by the United States.  This would prevent a Syrian who gave a cigarette or a sandwich to a Free Syrian Army solider from receiving refugee status, despite the fact that the United States is providing assistance to the FSA.  On a bipartisan basis, Congress has given the Executive Branch authority to create exemptions to these immigration bars for deserving refugees.


The following witnesses testified at today’s hearing: Anne C. Richard, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, U.S. Department of State; Nancy E. Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development; and Molly Groom, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Policy, U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Copies of their testimony are attached along with Senator Durbin’s opening statement.


A webcast of today’s hearing can be found here.