Report: U.N. Pressing for ‘Alternative’ Ways to Admit More Syrian Refugees to U.S.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is considering “alternative” ways to admit more Syrian refugees to the United States, beyond the current refugee resettlement program, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

“The legitimacy and transparency of these new ‘alternative pathways,’ aimed at admitting increasing numbers of Syrian refugees into the United States without calling them ‘refugees,’ remain to be seen,” CIS senior researcher Nayla Rush wrote in a report Monday. “They might even amount to convenient admissions detours at a time when the U.S. refugee resettlement program is under tight scrutiny.”

According to Rush, facing a target to resettle 480,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years, U.N. representatives have already been laying the rhetorical groundwork for pursuing such alternatives to resettlement. During a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution in February, Rush detailed, Beth Ferris, Research Professor at Georgetown University and adviser to the United Nations Secretary General on humanitarian refugee policy noted the possibility of alternative paths.

Refugees and government officials are expecting this crisis to last 10 or 15 years. It’s time that we no longer work as business as usual … UNHCR next month [March 2016] is convening a meeting to look at what are being called “alternative safe pathways” for Syrian refugees. Maybe it’s hard for the U.S. to go from 2,000 to 200,000 refugees resettled in a year, but maybe there are ways we can ask our universities to offer scholarships to Syrian students. Maybe we can tweak some of our immigration policies to enable Syrian-Americans who have lived here to bring not only their kids and spouses but their uncles and their grandmothers. There may be ways that we could encourage Syrians to come to the U.S. without going through this laborious, time-consuming process of refugee resettlement.” (Emphasis Rush’s).

At the UNHCR March “high level” meeting in Geneva, Rush detailed, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for “alternative avenues” for countries to admit more Syrian refugees.

These pathways can take many forms: not only resettlement, but also more flexible mechanisms for family reunification, including extended family members, labour mobility schemes, student visa and scholarships, as well as visa for medical reasons. Resettlement needs vastly outstrip the places that have been made available so far… But humanitarian and student visa, job permits and family reunification would represent safe avenues of admission for many other refugees as well.

According to Rush, Heather Higginbottom, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources, attended the Geneva meeting along with representatives from 92 countries. The U.S. has pledged to admit at least 10,000 Syrian refugees this fiscal year, despite concerns voiced by top national security officials and Republicans that the vetting process is not sufficient enough to weed out possible terrorist threats.

As Rush noted, after the meeting, in addition to reiterating its resettlement goals, the Obama administration made additional promises.

“The United States pledged an additional $10 million to UNHCR to strengthen its efforts to identify and refer vulnerable refugees, including Syrians, for resettlement.”

The United States joins UNHCR in calling for new ways nations, civil society, the private sector, and individuals can together address the global refugee challenge.”

“Additionally, the United States has created a program to allow U.S. citizens and permanent residents to file refugee applications for their Syrian family member.” [Emphasis Rush’s]

Read the full report.


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