Humanitarian Disaster in Turkey and Syria: Call on the Admin and Congress to Act Now | LIRS
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Humanitarian Disaster in Turkey and Syria: Call on the Admin and Congress to Act Now

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Since the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Türkiye (hereafter referred to as Turkey) and Syria on February 6, 2023, more than 46,000 people have lost their lives and tens of thousands are injured and in need of urgent assistance. On February 20, another 6.3 magnitude aftershock struck southern Turkey, complicating ongoing search and rescue missions in the region and causing further loss of life.

These disasters have been particularly devastating to the countries’ refugee and displaced populations, many of whom were living in the affected areas. There are nearly 7 million internally displaced people  in Syria, and Turkey hosts both the largest number of refugees, including more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, and one of the largest U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) Resettlement Support Centers (RSC) in the world. 

The Biden Administration is working closely with the Turkish government to coordinate assistance in the country and in Syria and has pledged $85 million to assist with the recovery process. Secretary Blinken has promised and additional $100 million to support refugee and migration funds and humanitarian assistance in the countries, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently announced that it would deploy disaster assistance response teams to support search and rescue operations in Turkey.

These efforts are critical, but there is still a need for greater support for refugees impacted on the ground–and a need to closely monitor the cadence of processing at the RSC in Istanbul to ensure that refugees awaiting entry to the United States are not impacted by the devastation. At LIRS, we are calling on the United States to support those impacted by increasing refugee admissions from the region and by working to increase staffing and capacity at the RSC in Turkey. 

In the first three months of this fiscal year, 9,240 refugees have been welcomed to the United States, a fraction of the admissions goal of 125,000 for this fiscal year. Ensuring that the case processing at the RSC in Turkey is not impacted is critical to ensuring we reach this goal and live up to our humanitarian obligations. (Learn more at our newly launched Refugee Admissions Hub.)

In addition, the Biden administration should provide temporary protections to Turkish and Syrian nationals who are already in the United States and who cannot safely return home. Department of Homeland Secretary Mayorkas should designate Turkey for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and further re-designate TPS for Syria to extend protection to more newly arrived Syrians in the U.S., protecting thousands. The Biden Administration should also grant Special Student Relief (SSR) to allow eligible international students from Turkey and Syria to remain in the U.S.,  providing protection from deportation for almost 9,000 students from Turkey and Syria and 220 DACA recipients from Turkey and Syria. The Biden administration should also consider using Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) as an additional measure of protection during this devastating humanitarian disaster.  


The Biden Administration must act now and should prioritize protection for individuals impacted by this disaster. Congress should ensure that USAID and our Department of State-managed and -funded RSC in Turkey are equipped to provide prompt and necessary support to Turkey and Syria during the recovery, rebuilding, and healing process after the disaster. Congress and the administration should monitor the recovery process and continue dialogue with the Turkish government to ensure that humanitarian and disaster response assistance is quickly disbursed and increased as needed.  

At LIRS, we are calling on our faith partners and network to continue praying for Turkey and Syria as communities grieve the many lost lives and begin to recover from this powerful earthquake. Together, we pray that our Turkish and Syrian neighbors will find hope in the support and generosity of the international community and comfort knowing that we are standing together in prayer and solidarity during this time of recovery and healing. 


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