March 25, 2021
CONTACT: Adam Beddawi, ABeddawi@accesscommunity.org
Washington, D.C. – Late last week, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas formally extended and re-designated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians through September 30, 2022. The move allows 6,700 current TPS beneficiaries to re-register for TPS and an additional 1,800 individuals to register, provided they meet certain eligibility conditions. The extension is welcome but falls short of meeting the urgent and rapidly deteriorating conditions in Syria.
The Biden administration announced the extension on January 29, after then-DHS Acting Secretary Pekoske conducted a “close consideration of Syria’s current conditions,” which include “a sustained need for humanitarian assistance, an increase in refugees and displaced people, food insecurity, limited access to water and medical care, and a large-scale destruction of Syria's infrastructure.” These current conditions have only worsened since then, moving the United Nations (U.N.) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to describe Syria as “a living nightmare” in which innocent civilians have “endured some of the greatest crimes the world has witnessed this century.”
The lofty rhetoric obscures a sordid reality for the Syrians, due in large part to the failure of diplomatic efforts since the Syrian civil war began on March 15, 2011. Just last week, Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Geir Pederson, lamented the U.N.’s inability to course correct for one of “the most deeply internationalized conflicts of a generation.” At this point, debate over the cause of this humanitarian crisis – whether U.S. and European Union sanctions deserve more blame than does the collapse of the Syrian government’s political system and business networks – bears little fruit. It does nothing for 60 percent of Syria’s population – nearly 11.1 million people, half of whom are children who have never lived a day in their life without war – who require humanitarian assistance to account for the ill-functioning primary health care centers, depleted healthcare workforce, 230 percent increase in the cost of an average food basket, and collapse of Syria’s energy products sector.
The 8,500 Syrians projected to benefit from the TPS extension are a small, though no less significant, fraction of those Syrians in need of relief. As Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated in his introductory press conference, “foreign policy is domestic policy, and because our strength at home determines our strength in the world, domestic policy is foreign policy too.” More can be done in the domestic realm to fortify our strength in the world, including increasing our Federal funding to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, raising the refugee admissions cap, and establishing a category of self-identification for Middle Easterners and North Africans, so that community-based organizations can assess the success of government assistance programs targeted to Syrians and people from elsewhere in the region.
These measures would allow the United States to figure prominently in the foreign policy realm again, where our credibility depends on the success of our peacekeeping efforts and the legitimacy of our commitment to universal human rights.