WASHINGTON -- Human rights organizations say it is insulting that the United States is preparing to take in only 10,000 Syrian refugees next fiscal year, and rallied outside the White House on Wednesday to demand the country accept 100,000 Syrians instead.
"This idea that the U.S. will take 10,000 more is an injustice and an insult to the enormity of the situation," Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told The Huffington Post after speaking at the rally. "This is the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II and is an indicator of things to come. We feel as though it is not getting the attention it deserves."
The groups at the rally contended that the U.S. is more than capable of accepting well over 10,000 refugees.
"This is something that we should do, and something that we can do," Annie Wilson, chief strategy officer of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, told HuffPost. LIRS joined other groups who were not only calling for the U.S. to accept 100,000 Syrians next fiscal year, but also for an additional 100,000 people from other countries to be taken in.
Millions of Syrians have been displaced since the conflict began in 2011. The exodus of refugees is one of the largest in recent years. Those left behind have stuggled to survive. More than 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives during four years of civil armed conflict and an Islamic State militant insurgency.
There are 4 million refugees outside of Syria's borders, and 7.6 million people are displaced within the country, according to the UN refugee agency, which has referred about 18,336 refugees to the U.S for resettlement. The U.S. has accepted 1,500 refugees since the beginning of the conflict. It typically takes 18 to 24 months for someone who has been referred from UNHCR to be admitted to the U.S., due to an intensive screening process and the large numbers of referrals.
The U.S. has contributed $4 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrian refugees since 2011, but as European nations face an influx of displaced people fleeing their home countries, President Barack Obama is under growing pressure to up the number of people taken in here.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday that the U.S. should accept 100,000 Syrian refugees. Durbin is the first senator to call on the president to present significantly more ambitious numbers in his proposal, joining 72 House Democrats and a large coalition of groups that work on refugee resettlement.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said last week that although the president wants to take in more refugees, the best solution is continued humanitarian aid.
"We know the scale of this problem. It's significant," Earnest said at a briefing with reporters. "There are millions of people who have been driven from their homes because of this violence ... It certainly is not feasible for millions of Syrians to come to this country, but what we can do is make sure that we are doing everything we can to provide for their basic needs."
Advocates at the rally said the resettlement of Syrians should be a bigger part of the equation, but that it's not the only element. The groups want increased protection for civilians on the ground and for Obama's foreign policy agenda to prioritize finding a resolution to the conflict. Rally organizer Zaher Sahloul said that the White House should develop a more proactive policy to deal with the war in Syria.
"We cannot just open the door to refugees without discussing why they are leaving," Sahloul said. "If we do not stop what is happening in Syria, we will have millions of refugees. Now is the time to act."