The UN’s Role in U.S. Refugee Resettlement: A “Benefit of the Doubt” Screening Policy

The U.S. refugee resettlement program for Syrians relies heavily on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR’s role goes beyond providing shelter and services to people in the region; the United States entrusts UNHCR with the entire selection and pre-screening process for Syrian refugees eligible for resettlement in the United States. Given that role, more inquiry into UNHCR’s activities is warranted. We are giving another group of people a delicate assignment to accomplish within the refugee resettlement program. Whether this is being accomplished successfully is open to question.

UNHCR is the UN refugee agency, established on December 14, 1950, by the United Nations General Assembly. It 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 has the international mandate to determine who is (and who is not) attributed refugee status, to provide refugee assistance, and to decide who is eligible for resettlement in third countries. UNHCR’s ultimate goal is to seek and provide durable solutions that will allow refugees to “rebuild their lives in dignity and peace.” There are three durable solutions available to refugees: voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement.

In summary, Americans are asked today to welcome Syrian refugees without hesitation and have total faith in the refugee resettlement program. They are asked to give the benefit of the doubt to UNHCR staff in tormented countries, and to trust their own government officials with their national security — officials who are delegating parts of their screening responsibilities overseas to the UNHCR.

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