Response to ISIS Genocide Must Include Safe Haven

In Iraq, ISIS has now murdered hundreds of members of religious minorities, including Yazidis and Christians, and kidnapped and enslaved thousands of women and children. Those fleeing the genocidal campaign of ISIS are entitled to safe haven, which requires a massive response from the United States and the international community. 

The massive response required to stop the genocide must go well beyond humanitarian aid.  But even the humanitarian response by the United States and the international community has been insufficient, including our own willingness to accept refugees from the region.   

Iraq and Syria’s neighbors have been relatively welcoming to millions of refugees during the biggest refugee crisis since World War II. But that welcome has worn thin and each country is increasingly taking measures to prevent refugees from entering. While the United States and Europe cannot solve all the world’s problems, forcing Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and down the road, Israel and other countries in the region to bear the entire humanitarian burden of Syria, Iraq and ISIS is a recipe for disaster for all humanity.

From across the globe, the United States resettles a total of 70,000 refugees each year; people who, after surviving unimaginable hardship, endure a years-long bureaucratic obstacle course. In the early 1990s, we resettled twice as many refugees annually.

The U.S. has an obligation to play a bigger humanitarian role in the region, however, today we are unable to offer the needed response. The U.S. Refugee Program, designed as a rescue program in 1980, runs like the 34 year old gas guzzler it is. No matter how frequently it is repaired, an ambulance cannot be relied on for 34 years. Nor should a slow and inefficient bureaucratic process force refugees to wait three or more years for our help.

HIAS, as a Jewish organization founded to help the persecuted find safe haven, calls on the United States government to get a new ambulance. It’s time to trade in the old refugee resettlement program for a more efficient model which can help more people while demonstrating commitment and solidarity with refugees and refugee hosting countries.

We urge other Jews and people of faith to join us. If you have not already, please sign a petition calling on President Obama to increase the U.S. refugee quota from 70,000 to 100,000. To paraphrase Jewish human rights activist Leibel Fein (z”l), which is the more Jewish act: welcoming the Sabbath bride, or welcoming religious minorities fleeing genocide?


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