Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Shame on US

By Yu Chen XuePublished October 2, 2015

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The refugee crisis in Europe is an international problem. As the world's leading power, the United States has a responsibility to lead the world in resolving this problem, but its commitments remain tentative and modest.

The United States is not doing enough to address the  refugee crisis.



Europe is in a state of crisis. Over  the past several months, more than four million people have arrived in Europe as refugees from war-torn Syria --and they are not alone. Others from Africa and the Middle East who have joined the trek to Europe number in the hundreds of thousands.


These refugees are trapped in deplorable conditions in camps across Europe, as countries struggle to accommodate the influx of arrivals. According to Amnesty International, conditions in Serbia near the border with Hungary are "abysmal and rapidly deteriorating. Meanwhile, Turkey is currently hosting 1.6 million Syrian refugees and the ever-burgeoning number is straining its  resources.


As the world's leading power, the U.S. has a responsibility to assume a leadership role in efforts to address international crises, including the refugee crisis. . Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced an increase to  the cap of annual refugee visas by 30,000. However, this is not enough. The increase is graduated;the number of refugees accepted into the U.S. will be increased to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. This policy will leave countless asylum-seekers languishing in limbo in the interim. Furthermore, the U.S. will accept only 10,000 Syrian refugees this year.


Moreover, the paltry number of refugees the U.S.  is offering to resettle  is shameful. The United States has the second-largest nominal GDP in the world, but its commitment to the refugee crisis is a pittance compared to other nations in terms of both the number of refugees accepted and the aid given to them. Germany, which has the world's fourth-largest nominal GDP, has already resettled  800,000 Syrian refugees this year and committed $1.8 billion to Turkey's refugee resettlement efforts . Turkey, whose nominal GDP ranks eighteenth in the world, has taken in 1.6 million Syrian refugees. In light of  these numbers, the U.S. commitment is laughable--especially given its position atop the international system.


Furthermore, the hoops that Syrian refugees will be forced to jump through before gaining entry into the U.S. will only prolong their  painful resettlement process. The State Department has reported that, of the 230,000 Iraqis "referred for resettlement to the United States during a seven-year period in the last decade…[only] 119,202 were approved [and only] 84,902 arrived in the United States." Syrian refugees will face similarly high denial rates and other bureaucratic hurdles . To make matters worse, they  will not be able to rely on their home country's government authorities to supply the criminal records and other background information used by the United States to vet refugees. It is imperative that the United States radically streamline the vetting process to ensure that the maximum number of suitable refugees are allowed into the United States in the shortest amount of time possible.


The U.S.  is an international leader--it is impossible for a country of its size, power, wealth, primacy, and involvement in regions across the world not to be. As The New York Times pointed out, the weak commitment from the United States "sets a terrible example for other nations asked to step up to this urgent challenge." When  the United States leads, the rest of the world follows. The time has come for the U.S.  to act decisively to  aid refugees.