'Solidarity is an Action, not a Sound-Bite': Oxfam Says US Not Doing Enough for Syrian Refugees

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'Solidarity is an Action, not a Sound-Bite': Oxfam Says US Not Doing Enough for Syrian Refugees

On eve of United Nations refugee summit, aid group asks rich nations to commit to resettle 10 percent of Syrian migrants

An 8-year-old Syrian girl and her family were taken in by Lebanese hosts in the city of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (Photo: UNHCR/S.Malkawi)

An 8-year-old Syrian girl and her family were taken in by Lebanese hosts in the city of Arsal in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. (Photo: UNHCR/S.Malkawi)

Efforts by the United States and other rich nations to resettle Syrians are devastatingly inadequate, said Oxfam International, which is asking countries attending the United Nations refugee conference this week to commit to open their doors to those fleeing the violence that has been intensified, largely, by their own failed policies in the Middle East.

"We need to show Syrian people that ‘solidarity’ is an action, not a sound-bite," said Winnie Byanyima, executive director of the international humanitarian organization.

According to an analysis (pdf) published by Oxfam on Tuesday, "Traditional resettlement countries like the U.S. are not pulling their weight" in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Since 2013, only 67,108 Syrians have been resettled. Meanwhile, there are more than 4.8 million Syrian migrants in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere in the region.

President Barack Obama had pledged to accept just 10,000 Syrians between October 2015 and September 2016, but according to the analysis, currently less than 1,000 Syrians have come to the U.S.. Since January 2013, less than 3,000 have been offered refugee status by the U.S.

"Countries with a strong economy, good services and developed infrastructure can immediately resettle 500,000 refugees between them," said Byanyima, "if they choose to."

Resettlement "is about providing a home to vulnerable refugees," Oxfam states, "not a method for managing migration or justifying harsh asylum policies."

"This is less than Washington D.C.’s population," she added. "Some countries have reached their fair share, and more. Others need to follow."

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Specifically, Oxfam is calling on those attending the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) highlevel meeting on Syrian refugees, which is being held in Geneva on Wednesday, to "collectively commit to offer a safe haven through resettlement or other forms of humanitarian admission to at least 10 percent of the refugee population—the equivalent of 481,220 people—by the end of 2016."

"Refugees fleeing conflict and violence and arriving in Europe carry an important message: addressing their plight cannot only be the task of countries and communities that are close to wars. It is a global responsibility that must be widely shared until peace prevails again," said Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in a statement on Tuesday.

The Oxfam analysis further notes that "[p]roviding resettlement spaces does not excuse countries, whether Syria’s neighbours or rich states, for closing their borders," nor should resettlement "be used as a bargaining chip in political deals," in what appeared to be a thinly veiled condemnation of the recent agreement between the European Union and Turkey.

Resettlement "is about providing a home to vulnerable refugees," Oxfam states, "not a method for managing migration or justifying harsh asylum policies."

Countries including Lebanon, where one in five inhabitants is a Syrian refugee, and Jordan, where Syrians constitute 10 percent of the population, "have fragile economies and weak infrastructure. They can no longer shoulder this responsibility virtually alone."

Based on Oxfam's calculation of national economies, only three nations—Canada, Germany, and Norway—have made resettlement pledges exceeding their "fair share." Australia, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and New Zealand have promised over resettlement to more than half of what they are capable of. Meanwhile 20 countries, including the United States—which has only pledged 7 percent of its "fair share"—and other Western powers, are falling short.

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