UN Ambassador Samantha Power: 'US will resettle more refugees'

Speaking to reporters at a Monitor-hosted lunch Wednesday, UN Ambassador Samantha Power said the total number of refugees the US accepts could exceed the 10,000 requested by President Obama.

Michael Bonfigli/Christian Science Monitor
Samantha Power, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations speaks at the St. Regis Hotel on September 16, 2015 in Washington, DC.

As the world experiences the most severe refugee crisis since World War II, world leaders are discussing how to address the influx of migrants coming from war-torn countries such as Syria, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. 

Last week, President Obama requested that the US take in 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016. That's up from the just over 1,500 the US has accepted since the start of the Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year.

Speaking to a group of reporters at a Monitor-hosted lunch on Wednesday, Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the United Nations, suggested that the number could go higher.

“President Obama has made very clear that the number we have been able to resettle up to this point is insufficient and that we are going to need to expand that significantly in the next fiscal year,” Ambassador Power said. “In terms of what the right overall number will be next year, we are continuing to reassess that. It is, of course, an issue of acute urgency.”

Currently, the United States has received 17,000 referrals from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for candidates who are eligible for resettlement, Power noted.

On Tuesday, Senator Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois called on the country’s top officials to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees. Meanwhile, some Republican lawmakers have expressed concerns that increasing the number of refugees could pose a threat to national security.

Power said the administration welcomed Senator Durbin's proposal and "would consider it carefully. But she stressed that there is a wide variety of opinions in the US government and in the UN Security Council regarding what should be done to address the global refugee crisis and the conflict in Syria.

In order to solve these issues, it’s necessary for countries to work together to find a political solution to the conflict in Syria, a solution whose outcome could significantly help stem the tide of refugees fleeing that country, Power said Wednesday.

“It [the migrant crisis] really raises questions about burden sharing and about the Syria conflict in particular, and about the need, of course, for the long elusive political solution to that conflict,” Power said.

Meanwhile, important differences remain between the United States and its fellow Security Council member Russia regarding the root causes of the conflict in Syria and how to address them.

“We need to get past this fundamental disagreement about what the cause of terrorism is and how to combat it. And those divisions do not appear to have abated, not withstanding the fact that we have more meetings and more heartbreak,” Power said.

During the 70th UN General Assembly, which opened this week in New York, Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to meet with Mr. Obama to discuss the conflict in Syria and the global refugee crisis, among other issues.

Meanwhile, Power said she believes most Americans would support the government’s decision to allow more refugees to resettle in the United States. 

“Too often, particularly in a political season, the loudest voices are ones that are very unwelcoming toward people coming from other countries,” Power pointed out. “And yet I think most Americans have had the experience of feeling the great pride that we feel in terms of those we have managed to shelter in times of great need.” 

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