The White House announced Monday that it had reached its goal of admitting 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States by the end of October, nearly five years after the war in Syria began.
The announcement was quickly met with self-congratulating fanfare. “We are pleased to announce that we will meet this goal more than a month ahead of schedule,” said Susan Rice, a White House National Security adviser.
Marie Harf, a State Department spokesperson, praised the number as a “six-fold increase from last year.” And Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., called it a “milestone” in confronting “the humanitarian crisis of our generation.”
But the White House’s announcement Monday was overshadowed by commitments from European allies, who are dramatically stepping up their support. The German government announced Sunday that it was preparing to accommodate 300,000 asylum seekers this year, in addition to nearly half a million last year. France has said they will resettle 30,000 refugees over the next couple years, and Canada has resettled the same number since November.
According to Oxfam, the U.S. is falling far short of the number of refugees it should be accepting. Based on an index calculated by the size of the economy and population, the U.S. is only doing 7 percent of its “fair share,” while its allies shoulder most of the burden, according to the charity organization.
That number is also based on the expectation that Western countries would only resettle 10 percent of refugees — about 460,000 people – and that Syria’s neighboring countries should absorb the rest. But as of March, European and American countries had only pledged 129,000 places, less than a third of that number.
The White House’s announcement comes after pressure from activists helped overcome long bureaucratic delays. Obama was initially criticized for initially admitting only 1,500 refugees; he announced in September last year that he increased the goal to 10,000 by October of 2016. By April of this year, however, only 1,300 had been admitted, leading the administration to accelerate its efforts after being criticized for long delays.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest signaled on Monday that President Obama may be willing to accept “a few thousand more [refugees]” next year. “The president would like to see a ramping-up of these efforts, but he’s realistic,” said Earnest.
Meanwhile, the situation for refugees in countries neighboring Turkey continues to deteriorate. In Turkey, refugees have trouble finding work permits, and only 40 percent of children from Syria attend school. In Lebanon and Jordan, nearly nine out of 10 of the 1.7 million refugees live in poverty.
Human Rights groups praised the Obama administration for meeting its goal, but urged the White House to take a leadership role in resettling refugees. “It is important to celebrate this milestone,” said Jennfier Quigley from Human Rights First, in a statement. “The United States can and should do more to be a world leader in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis.”