State Department foresees few refugees from Syria this year

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 13, 2013 

— Despite the rising violence in Syria, the United States does not expect an influx of refugees from that country, State Department officials said Thursday.

“We have brought only a handful so far, and I don’t think it’s going to happen quickly and I don’t think it’s going to happen in very large numbers,” Assistant Secretary of State Anne C. Richard said in testimony before the Helsinki Commission, a congressional commission that considers issues under a 1975 convention of European security. The commission’s chairman is Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md.

“I could foresee a time when some refugees will come here from Syria,” Richard said. That won’t happen, however, until Syrians “really feel they can’t go home again.”

The United States is consistently the world’s largest haven for refugees and expects to admit at least 70,000 in the next year, but those are most likely to come from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan, Richard said.

More than 1.6 million Syrians have fled the country’s civil war and are now living in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt, according to the United Nations. Jana Mason, a U.N. official, told the commission that the United States and other countries need to provide greater financial aid to the countries that have taken Syrians in.

“If our goal is to encourage the host countries to keep their borders open and continue allowing refugees to access basic services, then we as an international community must do more to assist these governments and their local communities,” Mason’s testimony read.

Cardin urged the State Department to make sure procedures are in place to deal with the Syrian refugees, whether in the United States or elsewhere.

“These people are extremely vulnerable,” he said. “Definitive action is important, and we need to have the resources in place to be able to deliver on what we claim to be our international responsibility to accept refugees.”

Email: awatkins@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @alimariewatkins

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