Locals push for increased aid in Syria

Lawmakers and a University law student want the U.S. to do more for the refugees.

Melissa Steinken

As turmoil in Syria continues to drive away at its citizens, many are pushing to increase the number of refugees from the region that the United States accepts. 
 
While the U.S. has accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees, nearly four million remain displaced. Now, a University student, policy experts and U.S. congressmen are pressing to allow even more refugees to settle in Western countries. 
 
“This is an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Ryan Allen, an assistant professor in the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. “The U.S. needs to be much more deliberate in dealing with this issue.”
 
The White House announced last week that Obama would push to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees to the U.S. in the next year. 
 
Earlier this month, third-year University law student Suzan Boulad organized a rally in Minneapolis to raise awareness of the refugee crisis. 
 
Boulad, who is Syrian-American, said she hopes to form a student group on campus that support people who fled their homes due to persecution, natural disaster or war. 
 
“Student advocacy has a really rich history in the U.S.,” she said. “It hasn’t stepped up to the plate for Syria yet.”
 
Boulad said she was inspired to advocate for Syrians after images of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed ashore in Turkey surfaced earlier this month and wanted to capitalize on the attention it received. 
 
Boulad said Minnesota — a state with a history of resettling refugees — could make an ideal landing spot for some Syrians. 
 
Last week, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., wrote a letter to President Barack Obama that called for the U.S. to increase the number of refugees it takes in. 
 
Additionally, a group of U.S. Senators — including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. — sent a letter in May to Obama urging him to increase the number of refugees allowed to resettle in the U.S. 
 
“We cannot expect countries hosting Syrian refugees to continue shouldering such a disproportionate burden,” the letter said, noting that small countries near Syria, like
Lebanon, host 1.2 million Syrian refugees — the most per capita in the world.
 
But the process of vetting potential asylum-seekers is complex, Allen said. It can take up to two years to process a resettlement application, according to the U.S. Department of State. 
 
In his letter, Ellison, who also authored a bill this summer to improve the government’s handling of refugee resettlement, said he’d like to see the U.S. offer emergency asylum to refugees.
 
Still, Boulad said she plans to hold a similar event to raise awareness of the humanitarian situation of Syrian refugees in October. 
 
“Freedom of movement is a human right,” she said. “The [United Nations] charter of refugees states that people should have the ability to move across borders freely.”