Understanding the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees

Since its outbreak in 2011, the Syrian civil war has displaced or killed more than half of its population. At least 6.6 million internally displaced people remain in Syria, while the number of Syrian refugees around the world has grown to 4.8 million. The vast majority of those seeking refuge are being hosted in neighboring Turkey (2.75 million), Lebanon (1 million), and Jordan (643,000).

Resettlement has been deemed the most appropriate durable solution for nearly half a million Syrian refugees, yet global powers have only pledged to resettle 179,000. President Obama’s pledge to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees in Fiscal Year 2016 contributes to global resettlement efforts.


In late August, the U.S. met this goal, placing Syrian refugees in 231 towns and cities across the country. Most of them have arrived as families, with women and children comprising 78% of Syrian refugees.


The resettlement of Syrian refugees has been controversial at times, with over half of the country’s Governors resisting efforts to bring Syrians into their states. Although the rigorous screening process makes refugees subject to the highest level of security checks of any traveler to the U.S., there have been frequent safety and security concerns about the resettlement program. A recent survey commissioned by Amnesty International found that 71% of American respondents support refugee resettlement in their country, and 27% would welcome refugees in their own neighborhood. When it comes to Syrian refugees in particular, the tides turn much less favorably, with the 2016 Chicago Council Survey finding only 36% support accepting Syrian refugees into the U.S.


Limited support for resettlement of specific nationalities is not a new phenomenon in America. In fact, approval rates for the admittance of Hungarians in 1958, Indochinese (Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians) in 1979, and Cubans in 1980 have consistently hovered between 25 and 34 percent. These historical influxes have typically been at a much larger scale, with Indochinese refugees arriving at a pace of 14,000 a month! In comparison, the 10,000 Syrians resettled in Fiscal Year 2016 constitute a small fraction of Syrians in need of resettlement, all refugees admitted to the U.S., and the population at large.

The achievement of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees this year is laudable. Still, some have argued that the U.S. should be taking in many more. Not only is the number of refugees admitted dwarfed by many other nations, but in relation to the population size, the U.S. is accepting far fewer Syrian refugees than other nations. Canada, for instance, has accepted 28 times as many, based on population. The United Kingdom, which has resettled a similar number of Syrian refugees has absorbed five times as many when population size is considered.


This year, the United States has demonstrated generosity, compassion, and commitment to the international community by resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees and supporting humanitarian efforts across the affected region. It is important to note, however, that these refugees represent only a fraction of those in desperate need, and constitute a much smaller influx to the U.S. than groups from other crises have in the past. The upcoming UN Summit on Addressing Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants and Obama’s Leader’s Summit on Refugees have the potential to concretize and bolster global efforts to meet the overwhelming need of refugees around the world.


  1. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/us-syrian-refugee-goal-1.3742093
  2. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2016/08/09/syria-refugees-united-states-women-children/88446226/
  3. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/new-poll-shows-majority-of-americans-believe-us-must-do-more-for-refugees-0
  4. https://www.thechicagocouncil.org/publication/americans-support-limited-military-action-syria-against-isis?utm_source=homepage&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=report
  5. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/19/u-s-public-seldom-has-welcomed-refugees-into-country/

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