Refugee Crisis Frequently Asked Questions

FAQ: The Refugee Crisis

What is the scope of the refugee crisis?

According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are currently more than 70 million displaced people and 25.9 million refugees worldwide, surpassing the record set in World War II. The civil war in Syria is responsible for the recent significant increase in refugees, including many of whom are now seeking to enter Western Europe. In 2015 alone, over a million refugees arrived at Greece and Italy’s shores after undertaking a dangerous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Refugees also hail from other nations including Afghanistan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Myanmar, South Sudan, Eritrea, Nigeria and Ukraine.

Why are refugees leaving Syria?

Since 2011 when anti-governmental protests led to civil war in Syria, about  11 million people have fled their homes. During the past six years of conflict in Syria, 470,000 people have been killed and 1.88 million have been wounded. . The UN reports that “By the end of 2014, Syria had become the world’s top source country of refugees, overtaking Afghanistan, which had held this position for more than three decades.” Today, on average, almost one out of every four refugees is Syrian, with 95 per cent located in surrounding countries.

Why has this recently become a prominent issue?

UNHCR, the key UN agency responding to the refugee crisis, has been challenged by the scope of the need. It is unable to meet the demand for resources in Syria such as food, clean water, health care and education. Refugees are now seeking to leave the region for safer and more stable nations. Traveling via Turkey and the Balkan countries, many refugees are trying to reach Germany, England and other Western European nations. The spotlight and onus has shifted to predominantly Western European countries to respond to this challenge.

What has been the global response

Just five countries have taken in 95% of Syrian refugees:  2.9 million in Turkey; 1 million in Lebanon; 659,000 in Jordan; 236,000 in Iraq; and 122,000 in Egypt. In Western Europe, German and Sweden have received the most requests for asylum.  US News has a comprehensive list of nation by nation responses.

What has the United States done vis-a-vis Syrian refugees?

The UN reports that the U.S. is the largest donor to its refugee aid program. The United States has given the largest share of humanitarian aid to the Syrian refugee crisis, contributing more than $6.5 billion since the beginning of the crisis.

Since the beginning of Syria’s civil war in 2011, nearly 18,000 Syrian refugees have been resettled in the U.S. In total, the U.S. set an annual cap of 70,000 refugees for 2015 and of 85,000 for 2016. 

While the United States pledged to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that lowered the annual cap to 50,000, the lowest number since 2007. Historically, the average ceiling has been 95,000 people. For example, the refugee ceiling for 2016 was 110,000 people, and the United States resettled roughly 85,000 refugees. At the end of September 2019, though, the administration announced its intention to lower the refugee ceiling to 18,000 people in 2020, a decrease of 40 percent from the prior fiscal year and of 83 percent from 2016.  At the same time, the president issued an executive order allowing states and localities to veto resettling refugees in their communities, further straining refugee resettlement in the U.S.

What has Canada’s response been?

The Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has resettled over 40,000 Syrian refugees since November 2015. The government has partnered with private sponsors, such as churches, synagogues and individuals, to account for a significant portion of the sponsors.


What has the URJ and CCAR said about refugees in past resolutions?

URJ Resolution on Refugees and Sanctuary
CCAR Resolution on Sanctuary

What can we do?

  1. Take Action and urge President Trump to rescind his executive order limiting refugee resettlement and urge Congress to continue to support robust refugee resettlement
  2. Volunteer with you local refugee resettlement agency
  3. Canadian Congregations: Sponsor a Refugee Family
  4. Donate:
    1. HIAS
    2. American Joint Distribution Committee
    3. IsraAid
    4. International Rescue Committee

Where can I learn more?

  1. HIAS rescues people whose lives are in danger for being who they are. We protect the most vulnerable refugees, helping them build new lives and reuniting them with their families in safety and freedom. We advocate for the protection of refugees and assure that displaced people are treated with the dignity they deserve. Guided by our Jewish values and history, we bring more than 130 years of expertise to our work with refugees.
  2. International Rescue Committee: The International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future. IRC teams provide health care, infrastructure, learning and economic support to people in 40 countries, with special programs designed for women and children. Every year, the IRC resettles thousands of refugees in 22 U.S. cities.
  3. UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency: The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country. It also has a mandate to help stateless people.