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Opinion | Syria’s Kurds Deserve Refuge With Us, and Fast


We believe that the United States has a special obligation to those who supported or fought alongside American forces, particularly when their plight is so directly tied to American decisions. In the 1970s, at the end of the Vietnam War, the United States brought hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asian refugees to our shores. One of them, Huan Nguyen, who fled Vietnam in 1975, recently became the first Vietnamese-American admiral in the United States Navy. In the mid-1990s, when the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein attacked the Kurds of northern Iraq, the United States airlifted tens of thousands of them to Guam to be processed as refugees. More recently, large numbers of Afghan and Iraqi refugees, whose countries were destabilized by American wars, have been resettled.

Today, that generosity feels as if it came from a different country, not just from a different era. At the height of the gravest human migration crisis since World War II, the Trump administration plans to admit just 18,000 refugees worldwide for resettlement over the next year, the fewest in recent history.

Last week, President Trump described resettling refugees as “importing the terrorism,” even as he abandoned those who fought with us against the gravest terrorist threat in recent memory. And as thousands of Syrian Kurds seek refuge in northern Iraq, he is reportedly sending more troops to Syria — to guard small oil fields. Inexplicably, he later tweeted a hollow appreciation for “what the Kurds have done” before suggesting that they, too, “start heading to the oil region!”

Members of Congress can help mitigate this unfolding disaster. Proposals include further sanctions to restrain Turkey, and reinforcing Syria’s neighbors Iraq, Jordan and Israel. But those worthy initiatives should be accompanied by two others that would support the refugees at greatest risk after America’s retreat.

One would establish special access to visas for Syrians who worked most closely with our forces, such as interpreters and advisers, if they have a recommendation from a high-ranking American officer and pass a rigorous background check. Another would designate a broader class of Syrians — including those with an immediate family member in the United States — as “priority” refugees, not counted against the administration’s paltry 18,000-person cap.

In addition to passing these proposals, Congress should insist that the State Department immediately enhance refugee processing where it is likely that those displaced will flee.

It’s unclear exactly how many lives such programs could save or improve, but a good eventual target might be at least 10,000, to mirror the number of casualties suffered by the S.D.F. on our nation’s behalf. The United States should also seek resettlement commitments from other countries whose people are now safer thanks to the S.D.F. (Europe has not suffered a terrorist attack orchestrated from Syria since 2016).


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