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2015 Refugee Crisis Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: The Refugee Crisis

What is the scope of the refugee crisis?

According to the UN Refugee Agency, at the end of 2014 there were 19.5 million refugees worldwide, an increase of nearly 3 million from the previous year.  The civil war in Syria is responsible for the recent significant increase in refugees including many of those now seeking to enter Western Europe. Refugees also hail from other volatile nations and regions including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Libya, South Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Ukraine.

Why are refugees leaving Syria?

Since 2011 when anti-governmental protests led to civil war in Syria, about 22 million people have fled their homes. During the past four years of conflict in Syria, one million people have been wounded and 240,000 people have been killed, including 12,000 children. The UN reports that “By the end of 2014, Syria had become the world’s top source country of refugees, overtaking Afghanistan, which had held this position for more than three decades. Today, on average, almost one out of every four refugees is Syrian, with 95 per cent located in surrounding countries.”

Why has this recently become a prominent issue?

UNHCR, the key UN agency responding to the refugee crisis, has been challenged by the scope of the need. It is unable to meet the demand for resources in Syria such as food, clean water, health care, and education. Refugees are now seeking to leave the region for safer and more stable nations. Traveling via Turkey and the Balkan countries, many refugees are trying to reach Germany, England and other Western European nations.  The spotlight and onus has shifted to predominantly Western European countries to respond to this challenge.

What has been the global response?

Just five countries have taken in 95% of Syrian refugees:  1.9 million in Turkey; 1.1 million in Lebanon; 630,000 in Jordan; 250,000 in Iraq; 130,000 in Egypt. In Western Europe, German and Sweden have received the most requests for asylum.  CNN has a comprehensive list of nation by nation responses.

What has the United States done vis a vis Syrian refugees?

The UN reports that the U.S. is the largest donor to its refugee aid program.  The United States has given the largest share of aid to the Syrian refugee crisis, more than $574 million, or 31% of total aid donated.This State Department Fact Sheet provides additional information about the U.S. aid response.

Since the beginning of 2015, nearly 1,500 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. In total, the U.S. has set an annual cap of 70,000 refugees for 2015. Some members of Congress and others have called on the President to allow in additional refugees from Syria.

The United States has pledged that it will take 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017

What has Canada’s response been?

The federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said it will resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next three years. The government is seeking private sponsors, such as churches, synagogues and individuals, to account for a significant portion of the sponsors.

What has the URJ and CCAR said about refugees in past resolutions?

URJ Resolution on Refugees and Sanctuary
CCAR Resolution on Sanctuary

What can we do?

  1. Take Action by urging lawmakers to respond
  2. Volunteer with you local refugee resettlement agency
  3. Canadian Congregations: Sponsor a Refugee Family
  4. Donate
    1. HIAS
    2. American Joint Distribution Committee
    3. IsraAid
    4. International Rescue Committee

Where can I learn more?

  1. Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. We protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom. We advocate for the protection of refugees and assure that displaced people are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by our Jewish values and history, we bring more than 130 years of expertise to our work with refugees.
  2. International Rescue Committee: The International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. IRC teams provide health care, infrastructure, learning and economic support to people in 40 countries, with special programs designed for women and children. Every year, the IRC resettles thousands of refugees in 22 U.S. cities.
  3. UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency: The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.