Unlike Europe, US slow to open its doors to welcome refugees

Updated: 2015-09-08 11:11


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Unlike Europe, US slow to open its doors to welcome refugees

Police officers stand guard in front of migrants waiting for trains at a temporary camp near Gevgelija, Macedonia, Sept 7, 2015. [Photo/Agencies]

WASHINGTON - As Europe grapples with a flood of refugees from the Syrian war and Catholics are urged to help them, the US government may lack the political appetite to offer American soil as a safe haven to more than the current trickle of Syrians.

Refugee and immigrant groups had urged the United States to admit more Syrian refugees long before the crisis erupted this summer in Europe.

Some hoped global outrage over images of a drowned Syrian toddler in Turkey last week, and Pope Francis' call on Sunday for European parishes to take in refugees - coming just two weeks before a trip to the United States - might help prod the United States into action.

"The US could and should be doing more. The silence of the White House on this is unacceptable," said Michelle Brané of the Women's Refugee Commission.

A White House spokesman said on Monday the Obama administration "is actively considering a range of approaches tobe more responsive to the global refugee crisis, including with regard to refugee resettlement."

Spokesman Peter Boogaard said in an emailed statement that the United States had provided over $4 billion in humanitarian assistance since the Syrian crisis began and more than $1 billion in assistance this year." He added: "The US is the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis."

But moral arguments about the refugees' plight may be overshadowed by the political realities in Washington.

Some congressional Republicans have said allowing in Syrian refugees would constitute a pipeline for terrorists.

"The rhetoric has been really awful," said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute. "The difficulty of doing it is met by this Islamophobia and conflation of Syrians and Iraq is with terrorists.

"Hopefully, the pope will be able to challenge that mindset and soften some hardened hearts, but that remains to be seen."

The administration itself is concerned that militants from Islamic State or al-Qaida might slip into the country as refugees. The State Department has cited Washington's vettingprocess as a crucial but complicating factor for Syrians seeking entry.

Since the start of the Syrian war in 2011, Washington hasaccepted 1,500 Syrian refugees, most of them this year, and the State Department expects 300 more by October.

The number is tiny against the backdrop of the European refugee crisis in which Germany is preparing for 800,000 asylumseekers this year, around 1 percent of its population, andcompared with the overall number of 4 million Syrian refugees.

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged on Monday totake in up to 20,000 refugees from camps in Syria over the next five years, responding to public pressure to help.

While US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, does not need congressional approval to allow in more refugees, Zogby said the president could be wary of risking a backlash at a time when he is keen to secure lawmakers' support for a nuclear deal betweenIran and world powers, including the United States.

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