Letter to Thad Cochran, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Barbara Mikulski, Vice Chairwoman, Senate Appropriations Committee, The Honorable Lindsey Graham, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee, and The Honorable Patrick Leahy, Subcommittee Ranking Member - Immediate Emergency Funding to Increase U.S. Humanitarian Support for Syria, Capacity for Refugee Admissions
Dear Chairman Cochran, Vice Chairwoman Mikulski, Subcommittee Chairman Graham, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Leahy:
Since the disturbing image of a 3-year old Syrian refugee captured the attention of the American people, thousands more children have been forced to flee with their families to escape the horrific violence of the Syrian civil war. The United States has always been a beacon of hope for those fleeing persecution and violence, and we cannot simply sit on the sidelines as this humanitarian disaster continues to unfold.
While acknowledging the United States is the largest contributor to the global humanitarian response, we can and must do more to address the plight of Syrian refugees. We therefore urge the Appropriations Committee to immediately consider emergency funding for a two-pronged strategy to provide immediate humanitarian relief and increase the capacity for refugee admissions to the United States. We welcome Secretary Kerry's announcement that the United States will raise the overall cap on refugee admissions from 70,000 to 100,000 over the next two years, but the announcement will be meaningful only if Congress provides the necessary resources.
First, we support additional assistance to the organizations aiding Syrian refugees in the region. The World Food Program has once again run out of money to feed millions of refugees who live outside the camps, and the UNHCR appeal for 2015 is still only 37% funded. UNHCR and implementing partners such as Save the Children, Mercy Corps, Oxfam, and other local NGO's are working around the clock to provide food, shelter, medical care and education to refugee families, but these basic services are at dire risk unless the United States and our partners fill the funding gaps.
Second, we support funding to significantly increase the number of refugees screened and admitted into the United States, with priority given to vulnerable populations such as religious minorities, women with children, and victims of torture. The United States has a long tradition of providing safe haven to refugees fleeing from tyranny, violence and persecution. We welcomed approximately 200,000 refugees from the Balkan Wars, 700,000 refugees from Cuba, and more than 700,000 refugees from Vietnam. Compared with these historic numbers, we can do better than 10,000 slots for Syrian families. As always, security considerations remain paramount. All refugee applicants must continue to undergo extensive background checks and vetting of their biographic and biometric data against a broad array of U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases.
The brutality and callousness of ISIL and the Assad regime are fully responsible for this humanitarian crisis. Ultimately the Syrian civil war must end. But until that time, we can take the measures proposed above to have an immediate, yet lasting, impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrians -- including those who will be needed to rebuild their country.
Thank you for our consideration. We look forward to working with you to assert American leadership in addressing this humanitarian crisis.