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Pledges on Syrian Refugees Fall Short

Wealthy countries said they would to take in thousands more refugees at a ministerial-level meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, but aid organizations say that's nowhere near enough.

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The exodus of more than 3 million Syrians from their home country has been called the worst humanitarian disaster since the Rwandan genocide. On Tuesday, wealthy countries pledged to take in thousands more refugees — for a grand total of 100,000 — but aid organizations say that’s nowhere near enough.

“Syria has become the defining humanitarian challenge of our times, and it’s important that the kind of offers of help that we’ve seen today keep coming in,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stated after a ministerial-level meeting in Geneva to discuss the crisis.

As Syria’s neighbors — particularly Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan — have been flooded with people fleeing the Syrian civil war, humanitarian groups have blasted wealthy countries for not helping more. Tuesday’s pledges add only about 38,000 spots for Syrian refugees, and government representatives were vague on just how many each of their countries would accept.

Anne Richard, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, said the United States would take a lead in resettlement. “We are reviewing some 9,000 recent [U.N.] referrals from Syria,” she said. “We are receiving roughly a thousand new ones each month, and we expect admissions from Syria to surge in 2015 and beyond.”

That’s up from the roughly 4,000 applications the State Department said it received through September. But the total number of refugees the United States will accept from around the world is capped at 70,000 for next year, so more Syrian admittances means more denials for other refugees. The United States has admitted just a few dozen Syrian refugees so far.

Before Tuesday, countries outside the Middle East had agreed to take in only about 62,000 Syrian refugees, though the numbers accepted by nations such as Uruguay are large relative to those nations’ populations. Germany’s offer to take in 20,000 Syrians is far and away Europe’s most generous.

Meanwhile, millions of refugees on the Syrian border and beyond struggle with hunger, inadequate shelter, disease, and unemployment. Earlier this month the World Food Program suspended its food voucher program for this population because it didn’t have enough money, although it announced Tuesday that responses to its emergency plea will allow it to resume.

Humanitarian organizations said promises made at Tuesday’s meeting are not enough.

“Governments meeting in Geneva today had the opportunity to transform the lives of some of Syria’s most vulnerable refugees – an opportunity they largely failed to take,” Oxfam stated. “Other governments must urgently follow the lead set by Germany and commit to playing their part.”

Maya Hautefeuille/AFP/Getty Images

Justine Drennan was a fellow at Foreign Policy. She previously reported from Cambodia for the Associated Press and other outlets. @jkdrennan

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