HIAS, Reform rap Obama administration for lowballing Syrian refugees

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Two U.S. Jewish organizations said the Obama administration’s offer to absorb at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year was inadequate.

“Increasing the total number of refugees from 70,000 to 85,000 for next year and to 100,000 for the year after is a nice symbolic gesture,” Mark Hetfield, the president of HIAS, a Jewish group that assists in refugee resettlement and advocates for immigration reform, said Sunday in a statement. “It is a baby step in the right direction. But it is not leadership.”

The Reform movement also said in a statement Monday that Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposed numbers did not meet the mark.

“The new admission numbers remain insufficient considering the scope of the crisis at hand,” said Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the director of the Reform’s Religious Action Center.

Kerry, meeting Sunday in Berlin with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, announced the increases in the maximum number of refugees that the United States allows in and said “at least” 10,000 of them would be Syrian.

HIAS has joined a number of former Obama administration officials in calling on the United States to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees above the refugee ceiling.

“If Germany can open its doors to 800,000 asylum seekers, the U.S., with a population four times the size of Germany and a history as a nation of immigrants and refugees, we can take 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, on top of the 70,000 refugees fleeing other countries during this global refugee crisis, the largest since the World War II,” Hetfield said.

Kerry in his news conference said that vetting the Syrians for terrorists limited the number the United States could take in.

“We want to take more,” he said. “We understand the responsibility. We would like to. But taking folks out of Syria for us at least, given our law right now post-9/11, requires a very specific vetting security process.”

The American Jewish Committee separately announced that it was providing funds and staff to assist KIS, the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, and IsraAID, an umbrella group for Israeli aid groups, which are ministering to Syrian refugees in Greece.

SodaStream, the Israeli soda water maker, offered to absorb 1,000 Syrian refugees at its factory in southern Israel, according to i24, a news site. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected absorbing any refugees from the war in Syria.

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