WASHINGTON: After a slow start, it appears increasingly likely that the Obama administration will hit its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States before the end of September. State Department figures show that 2,340 Syrian refugees arrived last month in the United States. That’s more than what occurred during the entire seven months after President Barack Obama directed his team to prepare for 10,000 admissions from the war-torn country.
Total admissions for the current budget year, which ends Sept 30, now come to about 7,900, and the vast majority of them are Sunni Muslims, records show. If the pace from June and July continues this month, the target should be reached with a couple weeks to spare before Obama heads to the United Nations to urge world leaders to admit more refugees and to increase funding for relief organizations. The UN General Assembly is holding a summit to address the large movements of refugees and migrants that stems primarily from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa.
Obama would have been hard-pressed to make the case for other countries to do more with the US failing to reach a goal that amounts to only about 2 percent of the 480,000 Syrian refugees in need of resettlement. Organizations that help relocate Syrian refugees said the White House and other administration officials have grown increasingly confident of hitting the target. “They put more resources on it, which is allowing more individual’s to be processed and therefore able to travel,” said Stacie Blake, a spokeswoman for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, one of nine groups that help resettle Syrian refugees.
Obama’s call for 10,000 entries this year was criticized by most Republican governors and the GOP presidential candidates, who argued that the government lacked an adequate screening system to prevent suspected terrorists from slipping into the US. Extremist attacks in Europe and the US have increased concerns about immigration. An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in early July showed that 69 percent of Republicans say they favor the temporary ban on Muslim immigration. Overall, Americans opposed such a ban by a margin of 52 percent to 45 percent.
Rep Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, sent a letter to Obama on Thursday calling on him to stop accepting Syrian refugees as a matter of national security. “We are seeing a clear pattern in which a number of recent attacks have been carried out by ISIS terrorists with ties to Syria,” Buchanan said, using one of the acronyms for the Islamic State group. He cited the killing of a French priest, the murder of a German woman with a machete and a bombing at a German music festival as examples.
The White House has emphasized that the screening process for refugees takes 12 months to 18 months and includes in-person interviews and a review of biographical and biometric information. The administration also has said it is focused on bringing in refugees who are in the most desperate situations, such as families with children and those in need of medical care. In the year prior to Obama’s new target, the US accepted about 1,680 Syrian refugees. Secretary of State John Kerry, speaking with reporters during a visit to Buenos Aires, Argentina, said the United States has developed “sufficient methods” of screening would-be refugees. “We are very comfortable that we are bringing people in who will be a great plus to our country.” Kerry said.
The Islamic State group will probably continue to be a threat to the US even after it is ousted from key strongholds in Iraq and Syria, President Barack Obama said Thursday, warning that lone-wolf believers will still be inspired to launch attacks that are harder to detect and prevent. Speaking to reporters after meeting with his top national security advisers in the Pentagon, Obama said the US has to do a better job disrupting terror networks and intercepting the internet messages that can get to troubled individuals and inspire them to act.
“What ISIL has figured out is that if they can convince a handful of people or even one person to carry out an attack on a subway, or at a parade or some other public venue, and kill scores of people as opposed to thousands of people, it still creates the kinds of fear and concern that elevates their profile,” Obama said. He said terrorism likely won’t be eliminated by his administration or his successors, and he’s always pushing his team to seek out new ideas to battle the problem. “I haven’t gotten numb to it. It bugs me whenever it happens,” he said. But, he added, “I do think that because of our extraordinary efforts the homeland is significantly safer than it otherwise would be.”
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a number of recent mass killings, including the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France, last month that left more than 80 dead, and the Orlando nightclub shootings that killed 49. While they may not have been directed by the group, the attackers were reportedly inspired by IS. Obama has beefed up the US military fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, recently authorizing more troops to help Iraqi forces prepare to take back the northern city of Mosul, which has been under IS control since 2014. And this week the US expanded its campaign against the group with a new front of airstrikes in Libya, to help the fledgling government there take back the city of Sirte.