U.S. Wary of Opening Doors to More Syrian Refugees

Just 1,500 resettled since civil war broke out in 2011

As Europe struggles to contain the rising number of refugees attempting to resettle within its borders, there are growing calls for the U.S. to increase the number of displaced people it admits — but a substantial uptick appears unlikely.

An estimated 4 million people have fled Syria alone since the outbreak of civil war in 2011, flooding Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. But only 1,554 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. since fighting began, according to figures from the U.S. State Department, most of whom have come to the U.S. since January 2015.

In August, State Department officials said that the U.S. would likely accept 5,000 to 8,000 refugees from Syria by the end of 2016. But on Friday, officials would not confirm those figures. “All I can say is the United States is likely to admit 1,500-1,800 Syrian refugees total by the end of fiscal year 2015 and expects to see an increase in that number in fiscal year 2016,” says Danna Van Brandt, a State Department spokesperson. The fiscal year ends in October.

International migration organizations have been working to persuade the federal government to increase the number of Syrians allowed in the U.S. as Europe grapples with a glut of refugees from the Middle East and West Africa attempting to enter and claim asylum in Western Europe. The International Rescue Committee is calling for the U.S. to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees by the end of next year, half the number that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has asked the international community to help resettle.

“The U.S. has historically been the world leader in recognizing the moral obligation to resettle refugees,” David Miliband, president and CEO of International Rescue Committee, said in a statement. “But in the four years of the Syria crisis there has been inertia rather than leadership.”

But even as the crisis in Europe begins to dominate the headlines in the U.S., migration experts say that may not spur the federal government to make a more substantial pledge. “I don’t see the U.S. under a lot of pressure to come to the aid of Europe,” says Kathleen Newland, senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute. Newland says there is still a very low tolerance for risk in the U.S. concerning refugees coming from a country with an Islamic State or al-Qaeda presence, but she says over time it’s possible that tens of thousands of refugees could eventually find their way to the U.S., depending on how the conflict ends.

“There will probably be a reluctance to really ramp up the settlement program until we have a better idea of what the outcomes [in the Syrian civil war] will be,” she says.