Former top diplomat: U.S. must accept more Syrian refugees
David Miliband with Hillary Clinton in 2009.
The United States needs to do a better job of taking in refugees displaced by the 4-year-old Syrian civil war, says former UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who now heads one of the world’s largest refugee resettlement agencies.
Miliband is pushing the United States to accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of 2016 – despite concerns from U.S. law enforcement that the Syrians pose a security risk.
He hinted that the rate of absorption of the mostly Muslim Syrians into American society has slowed due to fear mongering.
“The U.S. has long provided haven for refugees fleeing persecution, and that proud legacy should not be derailed by those who would play on fear,” Miliband wrote in an op-ed for the Gulf News. “The U.S. has instituted an evermore rigorous screening system for the tens of thousands of people who find refuge here every year. That system strikes an appropriate balance between securing the homeland and maintaining a commitment to freedom from persecution.”
Approximately 90 percent of the Syrians absorbed so far by the U.S. have been Muslims and a top FBI counter-terrorism specialist has raised red flags about the agency’s ability to screen for terrorists. It would be easy for ISIS militants to slip into the U.S. posing as refugees, a concern underscored by Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, during a homeland security committee hearing in February.
But Miliband, now president and CEO for New York City-based International Rescue Committee or IRC, is pushing the Obama White House to raise the ceiling on the total number of refugees the U.S. will let in this year from all countries. That number has been set at 70,000 for fiscal 2015, which ends Sept. 30.
The Associated Press reported Thursday that IRC “called on the United States to resettle 65,000 Syrians before the end of 2016, highlighting Washington’s slow response to the massive refugee crisis generated by the civil war.”
“It is well past time for the U.S. and other western countries to commit to a dramatic boost in the resettlement of Syrian refugees,” Miliband wrote in Gulf News.
So far, the bulk of the burden has fallen on Syria’s neighbors. Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq have taken in about 4 million refugees combined, according to Miliband.
“The U.S. has resettled 546 Syrian refugees over the past four years (actually that number is up to 648, according to the latest State Department statistics). Other western countries haven’t done much better, though Germany has pledged to take 35,000 of the 130,000 whom the U.N. refugee agency has asked the international community to resettle before the end of 2016,” Miliband wrote.
The U.S. can take three essential steps to mobilize this program to help the most vulnerable Syrians, he said.
“First … it can raise the 70,000 cap specifically to accommodate Syrian refugees over the next two years. By historical standards, the U.S. should be committing to take around 65,000 — or 50 percent — of those identified by the U.N. for resettlement by the end of 2016.”
Miliband also requests the U.S. move at a faster pace in its screening of applicants, a process that is overseen by the Department of Homeland Security with help from the FBI.
“Achieving that would require an increase in resources to allow for swifter processing by the Department of Homeland Security — including the more than 10,000 refugees waiting for a U.S. resettlement interview, as well as the 1,000 new applications being received from the U.N. each month,” he writes.
He closed the editorial by saying: “The U.S. is in a position to help by swiftly expanding resettlement and encouraging other donor states to follow its example. The moral choice is clear.”
Syrian refugee camps like this one have popped up in Jordan and Lebanon.
Miliband told the AP in Beirut that the whole international community shares responsibility for the consequences of the Syrian civil war.
“We are calling for scale and speed in response to this crisis. The Syria crisis shows no signs of abating,” Miliband said.
Grassroots push back mounts
Refugee watchdog Ann Corcoran of Refugee Resettlement Watch is urging Americans concerned about rising rates of Islamic immigration to contact their members of Congress.
“Do we have any hope that this Congress would even pay attention if Obama tried to pull that off” asks Corcoran in her latest blog with regard to raising the ceiling on the number of refugees entering the U.S. “And, is this why the resettlement contractors are out scouting in secrecy new potential sites to ‘seed’ with refugees?”
WND reported earlier this week that the resettlement agencies were secretly contacting host cities and resisting efforts by activists in communities such as Spartanburg, South Carolina, and St. Cloud, Minnesota, to obtain information on exactly how many refugees would be coming, from which countries, over how long of a period. They also wanted to know the cost of services that would be required to find housing, special tutors and interpreters, jobs and healthcare for the new arrivals.
The nine resettlement agencies that contract with the federal government operate 190 offices around the country. That number has jumped from 180 since December.
Milband’s comments come in the wake of congressional hearings in which the FBI warned of heightened security risks associated with Syrian refugees.
McCaul, the Texas congressman, held hearings in February before the House homeland security committee. Michael Steinbach, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit, testified that the agency doesn’t “have a handle” on the Syrian refugee situation.
Steinbach said Syria is in chaos, broken by four years of civil war.
“We learned our lessons with the Iraqi refugee population. We put in place a USIK-wide background and vetting process that we found to be effective,” Steinbach told the committee.
“The difference is that in Iraq we were there on the ground collecting (information), so we had databases to use,” he added. “The concern is that in Syria, the lack of our footprint on the ground in Syria, the databases won’t have the information we need. So it’s not that we have a lack of a process, it’s that there is a lack the information.”
And if the U.S. can’t screen Syrian refugees, it begs the question of how well they can screen Somali refugees, said Corcoran. Somalia is every bit as broken as Syria but that hasn’t stopped the U.S. from importing more than 100,000 Somali refugees over the past three decades into cities such as Minneapolis, Minnesota, Lewiston, Maine, and Columbus, Ohio. The FBI has confirmed that dozens of Somalis, at least 35 at last count, are suspected of leaving the country to fight for foreign terrorist organizations over the past five years.
As reported by WND last October Miliband arrived in New York to head the giant IRC after losing a bitter battle with his younger brother, Ed, to lead the British left-of-center Labor Party. He was greeted in New York by a gala that included Bill Clinton and George Soros.
According to the Telegraph of London, the former top diplomat and his two former aides also plucked by IRC are expected to cost the agency $1.6 million a year in salaries.
IRC is one of nine resettlement agencies that contract with the federal government to disperse refugees to cities and towns across the U.S. IRC is secular but six of the nine agencies are affiliated with religious organizations, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran church, Episcopal Church, evangelicals and another affiliated with Reform Jewish congregations.