(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration is mulling "resettlement" among other steps in response to a refugee crisis dubbed the worst in Europe since the end of World War II, a White House official said on Monday.
“The administration is actively considering a range of approaches to be more responsive to the global refugee crisis, including with regard to refugee resettlement,” National Security Council spokesman Peter Boogaard said in a statement.
“We are also in regular contact with countries in the Middle East and Europe who have been greatly impacted by the increased refugee flows,” he said.
In a situation that worsened dramatically over the summer, hundreds of thousands of migrants, including many from war zones in Syria and Iraq, have entered southern Europe, in many cases after making risky sea crossings.
On an emergency footing, European governments are examining ways to increase the number of people seeking refuge that each can accommodate. Many efforts to seal off borders to prevent migrants from traveling through the Balkans and towards Germany have proven unsuccessful.
Although the migrants come from a wide range of countries – from Sudan to Bangladesh – the Syrian civil war is viewed as a major factor.
According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) more than four million Syrians are sheltering in just five neighboring and nearby countries – roughly 1.9 million in Turkey, 1.1 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan, 250,000 in Iraq, and 132,000 in Egypt.
Since the conflict began in 2011, 350,000 Syrians have applied for asylum in Europe, some 138,000 of them in 2014 alone, it says.
While the U.S. is the biggest financial donor – having provided more than $4 billion in humanitarian assistance since the crisis began and more than $1 billion this year, according to Boogaard – it has taken in only around 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the conflict,
The State Department said last month the U.S. expects to welcome between 1,000 and 2,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year and between 5,000 and 8,000 in fiscal year 2016.
The International Rescue Committee, a New York-based humanitarian relief group, called that commitment inadequate, urging the U.S. this month to settle 65,000 Syrian refugees before the end of 2016. That would be half of the 130,000 total which the UNHCR has called on the international community to resettle before the end of next year.
That same figure – 65,000 – was proposed last spring by more than a dozen Senate Democrats, who in a letter to President Obama said it was “a moral, legal, and national security imperative for the United States to lead by example in addressing the world’s worst refugee crisis of our time by greatly increasing the number of Syrian refugees who are resettled in our country.”
With Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qaeda threatening to carry out more attacks inside the U.S., congressional Republicans have raised concerns about terrorists exploiting refugee resettlement programs. Both groups are active in the Syrian conflict.
The House Homeland Security Committee held hearings on the issue, and Committee Chairman Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) warned Obama in a letter last June that given the special circumstances, plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the U.S. were “very dangerous.”
Applications for refugee status in the U.S. include a Department of Homeland Security vetting process, entailing interviews and security checks carried out before the applicant is approved for travel to the U.S.
‘Chaos in the world’
Appearing on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich – one of 17 Republicans running for president – was asked his view on calls for the U.S. to take in more Syrian refugees.
He replied that while the issue was fundamentally one for Europe, “maybe this is an opportunity for the United States and the western world to get its – to work together to solve what is an unbelievable crisis.”
“And I think we do have a responsibility in terms of taking some more folks in, making sure they assimilate, and at the same time helping people to actually be safe as they move,” he added.
Kasich argued that the bigger picture was one of a lack of U.S. leadership.
“When the United States does not lead we get chaos in the world,” he said. “We should have been supporting the Syrian rebels years ago.”
Kasich said that had the U.S. supported the anti-Assad opposition, “this thing could be over by now.”
“But when the United States draws red lines and walks away and we don’t have any solid policy, it sows confusion, disarray, and we see human tragedy unfolding right before our eyes.”
Groups fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad range from Kurdish and Sunni nationalists to Islamists including ISIS and the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front.
U.S. support for “moderate” rebels in Syria is designed to help them fight against ISIS. The administration maintains that the departure of Assad can only be the result of a negotiated transition, not a military campaign.