By Justin Salhani
May 31, 2016
The Obama administration outlined a plan to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees for the 2016 fiscal year, which began last October. But eight months later, only 2,500 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the United States, the New York Times reported Monday. That’s the same number of total refugees that the United Nation’s refugee agency said drowned since the turn of the year.
President Obama has repeated spoken firmly about the moral obligation to accept refugees, particularly the most vulnerable coming from war-torn nations like Syria. He’s also repeatedly spoken about the importance of fighting anti-immigrant sentiment, and has sent more symbolic messages, like inviting a Syrian refugee to his State of the Union address.
“We’ve got to push back against anti-immigrant sentiment in all of its forms, especially by those who are trying to stoke it just to seek political gain,” Obama said at a gathering this month of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in Washington, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean, 2016 has been a particularly deadly year for refugees trying to find solace in Europe. "Analysis by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said that during the week of May 23 to May 30, an average of five refugees drowned per hour as they tried to flee to Europe," Al Jazeera reported. The majority of the drowned were Africans from countries like Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea and the Ivory Coast who were trying to make it to Italy. The Turkey to Greece route, popular among Syrian refugees in the past, has slowed since the EU reached a deal with Ankara to send back refugees.
White House officials say that Obama has been adamant that they find a way to resettle the agreed upon number of refugees. "Obama] has been very clear that he expects us to find a way to make this happen consistent with our security standards,” Amy Pope, a deputy homeland security adviser, told the Times. “The dynamics within Congress have certainly made it difficult to lean far forward in terms of refugee processing, but our obligation is to leave the refugee process in better shape than we found it.”
But rhetoric and messaging aside, refugee advocacy groups have criticized the Obama administration's implementation. They also added on the criticism of a number of deportations to Central America -- that include a number of women and children -- that the administration will soon preside over.
“The administration’s entire foreign policy has been built upon enforcement, not protection,” Anna Greene, the director of policy and advocacy of the United States programs for the International Rescue Committee, said in the Times.
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