US admits more Syrian refugees despite focus on Ukraine

Embassy in Amman says goal of taking in more people from around the world has not changed

A Syrian refugee and his two children at the International Organisation for Migration in Amman, Jordan. AP
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The US has taken in more Syrian refugees so far in this fiscal year than the past four combined, despite its focus on Ukraine as Washington sticks to a policy of increasing refugee admissions from around the world, the US embassy in Amman said.

Concern has been growing in Jordan that Ukraine's primacy among US and European donors would undermine help for 667,000 Syrian refugees in the kingdom. More than half of them are due next month to see sharp cuts to their food stipends.

The US has a main operation in Amman to process Syrian and other citizens seeking asylum in America.

The US embassy said Washington was “working to expand our capacity to identify, screen and admit qualified refugees", in line with an official goal set about a year ago to receive 125,000 refugees from around the world during this fiscal year.

US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield, right, visits the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan. AFP

“Russia's unjustified war against Ukraine has not altered this goal,” the embassy told The National.

The US fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30.

US President Joe Biden's administration has increased refugee admissions significantly compared with his predecessor Donald Trump, whose government set a cap on the annual number allowed to enter the US at 15,000 worldwide.

The embassy said the US Resettlement Support Centre in Amman "continues to expand its assistance to refugees" across the Middle East and referred to an even larger processing centre in Amman scheduled to open next year.

Washington is a major player in the geopolitical struggles Syria is undergoing, with about 900 US troops in the country.

They are stationed mainly in north-eastern areas controlled by Kurdish militia, a by-product of the fragmentation of Syria that followed the 2011 uprising against five decades of Assad family rule.

The US is also the largest contributor to the international humanitarian aid related to the Syrian conflict, donating $15 billion. A large proportion of those funds have helped Syrian refugees and countries hosting them.

The US has also received 23,364 Syrian refugees from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2021, State Department data shows.

From October 2021 to July 2022 it received 3,795 Syrian refugees, compared with 1,246 for the whole of the 2021 fiscal year.

It is the highest number since fiscal year 2017, when the US took in 6,557 Syrian refugees, and more than the in past four years combined.

Most of the 6.8 million Syrian refugees worldwide are Arab Sunnis, who form the backbone of the opposition against President Bashar Al Assad.

The uprising started with peaceful demonstrations but was met by violent suppression by the regime.

One Syrian refugee in Amman, who has a wife and three children, said the US embassy contacted him this month to reactivate his family's dormant asylum file.

He had fled his home in the Damascus suburb of Douma to Jordan in 2013, before the town was gassed in August that year.

"The embassy scheduled another interview for October. It seems it is for further screening, although we were on the verge of being accepted to go to America four years ago," said the refugee.

After Turkey and Lebanon, Jordan has the most Syrian refugees. The World Food Programme last week said it would cut stipends to 353,000 refugees in the kingdom by one third to $21 or less, partly because of the needs to meet the effects of the Ukraine war.

The embassy said the US, which is by far the WFP's largest donor, would provide additional funding to the organisation to bolster its position in Jordan, which imports 80 per cent of its food.

"The unprovoked Russian war on Ukraine has driven significant increases in food commodity prices globally, severely straining food security in Jordan," the embassy said.

Updated: August 22, 2022, 11:24 AM