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5 Years Of War In Syria: What Countries Need To Support Refugees


This week marks the fifth anniversary of the war in Syria. A fragile, partial cease-fire is now holding. And this week, Russia started pulling out some troops and some planes. But consider this number. Before the war, Syria was home to some 20 million people. More than half of them - more than 10 million people - have fled their homes.

That is the challenge facing Filippo Grandi. He took over in January as the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees. Grandi is in Washington this week. And we called to ask him what more he would like the U.S. to do to help.

FILIPPO GRANDI: The United States continues to be the largest resettlement country in the world. I'm not just talking about Syrians but, you know, the 60 million refugees and displaced worldwide. So many others need help as well. And we're asking the number of Syrians, currently the target is 10,000, to be increased as well.

KELLY: This is the number that President Obama has put out there for fiscal year 2016. The U.S. should take in 10,000. What number would you like to see it be? What would you like to see it increased to?

GRANDI: I'm not giving caps. Every country has to make a judgment. And I wouldn't want that to be at the detriment of other groups of refugees that are also in need of resettlement. But I think the...

KELLY: But if you could whisper into President Obama's ear, what number might you suggest?

GRANDI: I think President Obama would know better.

KELLY: Would you like to see that number doubled or are you talking a larger number?

GRANDI: That would be a very good start.

KELLY: Are there specific countries that, from what you have seen, could do more that you're specifically targeting?

GRANDI: We would like European countries to do more, especially at the time when they're discussing how to limit irregular flows. With Turkey, we would like them to do the same with Jordan and Lebanon, other big hosting countries.

And we believe they can do more. And that would also provide a safer way for refugees to go to Europe, which they presently go to through such dangerous means.

KELLY: We have on this program interviewed representatives of the governments from many European countries. Are you sympathetic at all to the argument that some of them make, which is they are doing as much as they can, taking as many people in as they can, but they simply don't have the resources to do more?

GRANDI: Some European countries have taken a lot of people, especially Germany and Sweden. The problem has been that Europe did not approach this issue collectively as a union with good burden sharing. So the flow ended up going only to two or three countries.

KELLY: You are flying next, to Chicago, as I understand it, to see refugees who have - who have arrived there. Tell me what you expect to find.

GRANDI: I expect to find a success story. I know that there's a big debate about resettlement in America. I think resettlement is the best, most practical, most safe and most protective way for the refugees themselves to be accepted in a third country. And I'm very eager to learn the lessons of resettlement in America to talk about them in other countries that are beginning just now to embark on this process.

KELLY: You said that you're aware that this is a controversial issue in the United States. I wonder, on your travels here, are you surprised at the level of political rhetoric and how big an issue this has been in our election year here?

GRANDI: It is unfortunate that the refugee issue has been politicized not just in America but everywhere because we should never forget that we're talking about people who flee terrible situations and are in need of help. They should have our compassion and our solidarity, not our hostility and antagonism.

And it is a bit surprising that this happens here in a country that has been built by immigrants and in which refugees have made such an incredible contribution. But I - I trust that this happens during period of political transitions. And I trust also that America will not forget its identity, which is so much founded in people coming and giving their contribution.

KELLY: Filippo Grandi, thank you so much.

GRANDI: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Filippo Grandi is the United Nations' high commissioner for refugees. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.