President Barack Obama has directed his administration to prepare to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees next year, up from 1,000 this past year – but that’s far fewer than the 100,000 Jewish refugee aid organization HIAS wants the U.S. government to resettle.
HIAS revealed its goal on a conference call for colleagues, supporters and media on Sept. 10 just before Obama made his announcement.
The Syrian crisis has captured the world’s attention in recent weeks as trainloads of refugees have begun to reach destinations in western Europe even as thousands have died, including small children who have been found drowned and washed up on strange beaches.
But the crisis has been years in the making, said HIAS vice-president Rabbi Jennie Rosenn on the call. Over the years of the Syrian civil war, 250,000 of its pre-war population about 22 million have died, and half are displaced.
The reason refugees have taken this long to reach Europe, she said, is because for years so many of them lingered in the region, hoping to return home. They didn’t head west until they realized their country would not be safe for them to live in during their lifetimes.
The United States has already set a precedent for resettling refugees at the numbers HIAS is urging; it took in twice that number after the Vietnam War with none of the infrastructure currently in place, said HIAS CEO Mark Hetfield.
Germany and Sweden, both much smaller countries than the U.S., have already taken in tens of thousands of Syrians, and have committed to accept more.
“When we want to settle large numbers quickly, we can do it, and given what Germany’s offering, we should do it,” said Hetfield.
HIAS and its allies are pushing for big numbers amid popular fear of Muslims, he added, noting that people have asked the agency whether the United States is about to “import jihad.”
“The refugees we’re bringing here are the ones who fled the jihadists,” he said on the call. “To confuse the refugees with the people they’re fleeing is to make the same mistake that kept the Jews from Germany out, because people thought they were German nationals.”