Jordan says it can't take more Syrian refugees - is Amman-allied US doing enough to help?

Washington is piloting an expansion of its Welcome Corps on Campus programme to include refugees in Jordan

Syrian refugees walk along a road in the Zaatari refugee camp, north-west Jordan. AFP
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From the UN General Assembly podium in New York, Jordan's King Abdullah II this week declared his country “will not have the ability or the resources to care for more” Syrian refugees.

The declaration, made on the soil of one of Amman's strongest allies, came as Syrian Americans are pushing Washington to do more to support refugee resettlement.

Washington's intake of Syrian refugees has significantly increased in recent years, and the US is now piloting a refugee resettlement programme that could benefit Syrians in Jordan, a State Department official told The National.

In fiscal year 2022, the US approved more than 4,500 Syrians for resettlement, an increase of about a thousand over the previous year.

The State Department official added that, “as of September 19, 9,456 Syrians have resettled in the United States during this fiscal year alone, accounting for almost 17 per cent of all refugee arrivals in FY 2023".

But that pales in comparison to the almost 29,000 Syrian refugees who are “in the pipeline” for US approval, according to a State Department report to Congress on refugee admissions.

The US-based Multifaith Alliance, a non-profit organisation that represents “the largest interfaith response to the Syrian crisis with more than 100 faith-based and secular partners”, is lobbying to expand Syrian refugee admissions.

It argues that “American resettlement policy is intentionally rigged against Syrians” and that “high hurdles for Syrian refugees remain the backdrop as US resettlement programmes are rolled out and touted”.

King Abdullah says Jordan not able to host and care for more Syrian refugees

King Abdullah says Jordan not able to host and care for more Syrian refugees

This year, Washington launched the Welcome Corps, a domestic assistance programme that allows private sponsors to support refugees arriving in the US after being approved for resettlement through its Refugee Admissions Programme.

Refugee advocates hailed the programme as a “once-in-a-generation” policy landmark.

And later, the programme added Welcome Corps on Campus, a “targeted education sponsorship initiative that enables US colleges and universities to play a leading role in resettling refugee students”.

But those programmes were initially limited to refugees coming from sub-Saharan Africa, excluding Syrians, who represent 6.8 million of the world's designated refugee population, according to the UN refugee agency.

The Welcome Corps recently expanded beyond that region, but Shadi Martini, the Multifaith Alliance's chief executive, said challenges for Syrian access remain, including the requirement that they already have refugee status.

“This is becoming very hard for a lot of Syrians. A lot of neighbouring countries have closed their borders to any new refugees even though the conflict continues,” he told The National.

The State Department official said the Welcome Corps on Campus programme is now “being piloted” for Kenya and Jordan.

“Given that some 90 per cent of refugees residing in Jordan are Syrian nationals, it is likely that Syrians will be among the initial beneficiaries of this programme. After the pilot period ends, we plan to expand Welcome Corps on Campus globally as well,” the official added.

The Welcome Corp's own website features a story of a Syrian American, something that took Mr Martini by surprise, since likely “very few” Syrians have entered the US through the programme so far.

The State Department did not respond to questions about how many Syrians have entered the US through the Welcome Corps to date.

The State Department said that it will make eligibility information for Welcome Corp's Phase 2, which allows private sponsors to identify a specific refugee or refugee family overseas whom they wish to sponsor, which will be available “later this year”, the official told The National.

Phase 2 “will be a huge service to a lot of these families that want to unite with their loved one or family members that are still there to sponsor them to come to the United States”, Mr Martini said.

For the Syrians already in the pipeline, “a lot of them have been vetted and waiting for sometimes three, four years and even more to get approval for the United States”, he added.

Fiscal year 2016 saw the largest number of Syrian refugees admitted to the US, at more than 12,000, but the election of Donald Trump to the presidency that year stalled Washington's trajectory on refugee admissions, particularly for Syrians.

“When the Biden administration came into office, the system was almost dismantled, so they had to rebuild it again,” Mr Martini said.

But Syrian Americans' patience is waning, as the end of President Joe Biden's first term draws closer.

“I can understand the first year. But now it's been three years since Biden ministration is in charge of this system, and it's not working,” Mr Martini said.

Updated: September 22, 2023, 4:06 PM