National Association of Social Workers Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Photo courtesy of the Chronicle Herald.

Photo courtesy of the Chronicle Herald.


The Syrian migrant crisis was triggered by the ongoing civil war in Syria against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Since the war began in March 2011 more than nine  million Syrians  have fled their homes.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than three million Syrians have fled to neighboring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq while another 6.5 million refugees are living within Syria. Approximately 150,000 Syrians have received asylum in the European Union.

The Obama administration in September responded to the  crisis by raising the number of Syrian refugees admitted to at least 10,000. Fewer than 2,000 Syrian refugees were accepted in this country in 2014.

However, Syrian migrants have come under scrutiny in the aftermath of recent killing of more than 130 people in Paris by gunmen affiliated with the terrorist group ISIS. This heightened scrutiny is derived from the fact that ISIS is largely headquartered in Syria.

Some speculate that groups of Syrian migrants coming to Europe and the United States could contain  ISIS-sponsored terrorists. Ignoring the fact there is no documentation to support this claim, 31 U.S. governors publicly declared they will refuse to allow migrants from Syria to resettle in their states.

That sentiment gained momentum in Congress, culminating in the passage of the America Safe Act  (H.R. 4038) in the U.S. House. If it becomes law, the America Safe Act would require the FBI director, the secretary of Homeland Security, and the director of national intelligence to personally certify that each Syrian refugee seeking resettlement in the United States does not pose a terrorist threat.  Passage of the bill is unnecessarily draconian given the lengthy vetting process for Syrian refugees already put in place by the Obama Administration.


The America Safe Act will all but ensure the Obama Administration’s Syria migration program will come to a halt. For that reason, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is disappointed that the America Safe Act  passed the House. The association believes the language in the bill conflicts with American and social work values that obligate us to reach out to and help populations around the world that have been displaced by wars and natural disasters.

NASW is also concerned with statements made by public figures suggesting U.S.  policies should prioritize Christian Syrians over Muslims or those proposing that all Syrian refugees register in a national database. Such policies could be construed as anti-Islamic and therefore are not acceptable to NASW.

Many Americans, from a broad political and religious spectrum of the country are equally concerned. For example, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement that said, “Acutely aware of the consequences to Jews who were unable to flee Nazism, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum looks with concern upon the current refugee crisis. While recognizing that security concerns must be fully addressed, we should not turn our backs on the thousands of legitimate refugees.”

Additionally, Arab Americans in Illinois expressed their opposition to the state’s governor’s plan to bar Syrian migrants from settling in that state by stating in part, “…Policies like these create an environment where violence and criminalization of all immigrants of color is not just tolerated but validated by elected officials. Denying people displaced by wars that the US plays a role in is not just hypocritical, it is cruel…”

The NASW Code of Ethics calls on social workers to act to prevent discrimination based on religion, race culture and other factors. Our Code of Ethics also calls on social workers to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, particularly people who suffer massive displacement due to wars and violent civil conflicts.

NASW supports all efforts to provide a safe haven and support services for people fleeing the crisis in Syria.


  1. I am proud to be a social worker and member of NASW. Thank you and God bless you.

  2. Where terrorists are in USA, according to US Senate:

    Funny how many Syrian refugees are being placed in these same cities. How convenient for recruitment and training purposes. And please stop with the social worker stuff. Social workers aren’t known for their smarts in these matters. As in most of the refugees are MEN, not the isolated picture you show. Get real.

  3. I was looking for ways to advocate for resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States and stumbled on this page–thank you to the NASW for making this statement.

  4. As a MSW student, I find it to be a difficult situation that we as American’s have been put in. On the one hand it is important to ensure the safety of our country especially with the turmoil we can see across the country and also in other countries. On the other hand, as social workers and citizen’s of this world, we must look at the refugee’s and offer a hand to help them. So how does one decide what the best decision is? There are negative’s and positive’s to either side of the debate. There are many factors that go into the decisions that need to be made. Also, fear has paralyzed everyone. Trust has been lost and when you add that with fear, people make uneducated decisions. As social workers, we need to push for what is right and also assist with solutions to the safety concerns rather than blocking these people from seeking safety and refuge here in the US.

    • Dear Nadia,
      From all these opinions you are the one who makes more sense! I agreed with you.
      Thanks and good luck with you MSW studies. I can tell that you will be a great SW.
      Leia o.

  5. Fred Nadelman, LMSW

    Refugees are refugees they must not be presumed to be criminals.

    • The Syrians are migrants, not refugees and need to be vetted to protect this country.
      No one used the word criminal so I don’t know why you are saying this
      A terrorist attack has now happened in San Bernadino. What more needs to be said.

  6. Guia.Calicdan-Apostle, DSW, MSSW

    Write to those governors who have vowed to refuse admission of Syrian refugees to their states.

    Please see link below.

    Having worked in a refugee camp for about three years was a transformational experience for me. Please encourage the decision-makers to visit and spend some time to meet and talk to the refugees in these camps.

    Social workers should strengthen their resolve in serving humanity for the sake of social justice, peace and unity.

    • It does not matter because they are being admitted despite the risk to national security.
      Callousness? The security of the American people does not make me callus.
      Why are you not asking the rich oil Arab Countries who refuse admittance ? Ask these countries to put aside their safety concerns ? Don’t tell me America has to be different. These are not immigrants, these are migrants. Remember, as soon as they come to this country , all are immediately qualified for welfare benefits. Who is paying for this ? What do you mean a tiny bit of security ? You described yourself as above everyone else, you are better than everyone else. There are realistic safety concerns. I think enough Americans have lost limbs and lives . News
      Syrian family first to arrive in N.J. since Christie’s ban on state help

  7. In the wake of the November 13 attacks on Paris, there is heightened concern that terrorists connected with ISIS will use the mass movement of refugees and economic migrants in the world to gain access to the United States.
    The wealthy Arab nations will not accepting those from Syria because of security concerns.
    The United States currently maintains the most generous refugee program in the world. Typically, the State Department sets a goal of admitting half of the total refugees certified for placement by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR). In 2013, the United States took 67 percent of all refugees.
    The president is currently recommending expanding this already-generous program by increasing admissions of Syrian refugees from 1,500 to 10,000, with a total increase of 45,000 worldwide refugees over the next two years
    Obama’s own officials admits that the absence of data makes it impossible to properly vet Syrian refugees. Terror is rising around the word, Sinai, Beirut, Mali, and Brussels was shut down by fear. Not all Syrians are from Syria. Some of the terrorists who attacked Paris snuck into Europe by way of fake passports pretending to be Syrians. In addition not all meet the legal definition of the term refugee, they are migrants. Although the picture in this article shows women and children, the majority are military age males . Migrants currently entering Europe lack a legitimate claim for asylum. Many are economic migrants, seeking a better life for themselves and their families, but are not in danger of persecution. Many immigrants from poor, but otherwise stable countries, are currently claiming to be fleeing Syria, with a black market in Syrian passports booming. Given a systematic lack of documentation, distinguishing legitimate refuge-seeking from fraud can be difficult. I think my fellow social workers have already forgotten about the April 13, 2013 Boston Marathon Bombing where two women and an 8 year old were killed and more than 260 people were injured.
    Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev ( now sentenced to death) became self radicalized after their family came to us the US as refugees.Life as a refugee can be difficult, and some who are dissatisfied with their new life could be easy targets for terrorist recruitment. While most of the refugees are people who are just in need of help, the U.S. must ensure that it is assimilating refugees into U.S. society to reduce the risk of radicalization.
    There is little concern that I see from the comments written by my fellow social workers, that terrorists could be embedded amid the refugees. Obama did not lift a finger when Bashar Alssad began making war on his own people.

  8. I am honored to be a member of NASW. As an organization and individual social workers we can carry this message forward and advocate for these Syrian refugees to be treated with respect and resources.

  9. I am appalled at the response of our government to liken Refugees to terrorists. By the mere fact that we have taken in a paltry 6000 and a country like Germany has taken in almost 600,000 is shameful.
    Victims of terror being further traumatized by a powerful nation is so below our values and standards. I think one of the probems is that as Nigerian Author Chiamanda Adichie says viewing everyone from one story. I saw this recently on You Tube, is is worth a watch:

    Let us continue to be advocates for the poor and powerless, even those that are not yet here!

    • I have been a social worker for 25 years, and time after time, I can say that Ive never been disappointed by NASW in representing my values and the values of the social work profession.
      Two weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Istanbul and Konya in Turkey.
      While there, I was stunned and greatly dismayed to see the condition of these refugees that everyone is so afraid of.
      Most of them are children and single mothers, who live in the streets begging for food.
      What is the most shocking as a Westerner, is the effect of this type of extreme poverty on the children.
      These little ones begging in the streets, many as young as 3 years old, have acquired a shell of callousness and aggression that only desperation brings. The innocence of childhood, while still there underneath this thin veneer, has been all but beaten out of these blameless children. One look in their eyes will reveal to anyone, most certainly to any social worker, the horrors that they have seen.
      On many street corners, women nursing babies sit, faces stained with tears and hands held out in desperation…
      Each and every politician who votes for this so called “Safe America” act NEEDS to visit these places and see for themselves how terrorists are bred….
      They are bred by the callousness of countries and individuals who can turn their heads to the misery and despair of small children and starving mothers in favor of protecting their own “lifestyle”….a lifestyle that values material wealth over spiritual wealth, a lifestyle that equates worthiness with social standing, and personal safety over the security of collective values and ideals.
      Terrorists are willing to die for their ideals, however twisted and perverted they are. How can we, as Americans, fool ourselves by thinking we can win this war on terrorism without being willing to risk a tiny bit of the security that is a luxury to the rest of the world?
      It is true that by opening our borders, we are potentially allowing a terrorist or two in, under cover of the atrocities that are occurring in Syria…
      but to NOT give them asylum is sending a message to every alienated, angry young person begging in the streets of Europe and the Middle East….a message that the world is indeed, the world that the ISIS recruiters stand for, and that aggression and violence is the only way to survive. The little innocent refugees that we keep out today will indeed become the savage terrorists that we fear tomorrow.
      I am also a Muslim….a Sufi Muslim, and for any one who is not familiar with Islam, I can state unequivocally, as have countless others that ISLAM itself is the biggest victim of this terrorist threat! Our religion has been hijacked by vicious bloodthirsty savages, whom the Prophet Muhammad himself warned us of over 1400 years ago. He said that a time would come when nothing would remain of Islam other than its name, and nothing would remain of the Quran other than its words….and the worst of humanity would proclaim themselves Muslims while perverting the very Essence of the religion.
      TRUE Muslims would never let fear drive them to condemn starving desperate innocent people to death….neither would true Christians, true Jews, true Hindus, true Buddhists, true Pagans…..true HUMANS.
      In Konya, I had the blessing of visiting the tomb of one of the greatest beings of all time….a contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi….a Muslim man named Rumi…
      and he wrote:
      “Neither Christian nor Jew, not Muslim, Hindu, Sufi or Zen
      not any religion or cultural system…
      I Do not Exist….
      my place is the Placeless….a trace of the Traceless….
      Only this BREATH breathing…
      Human Being”
      May this crisis of the Universal Spirit make all of us true human beings

  10. I visited two resettlement camps in Germany this past September, one housed 180 unaccompanied minors and the other 1,000+ family members. The outpouring of support from the German people was overwhelming. The US as has France, agreed to take refugees from the official resettlement camps outside of Syria. These refugees are following the designated UN process for seeking asylum. On average refugees spend two years in these camps before they are vetted by the UN High Commission. They are then assigned to a country in the west. Conditions in these camps are primitive. Those who do enter the US must go through the US vetting process for a minimum of six months and can not gain permanent green card status for three years.
    Suggesting ISIS is infiltrating terrorists into this camps to wait two years in hopes of eventually being selected to migrate to the US is illogical as there are alternate ways to penetrate US borders requiring much less time. Are the House members who voted for this bill dumb, i.e. don’t get it; lazy, i.e. didn’t take the time to study how the current system works or they don’t care because their objection is jocking for talking points in the next election?

  11. Remember the mother who was a refugee and her two sons. Boston bombings ring a bell? The caution is warranted like it or not.

  12. I appreciate that our government moved so quickly to take precautions to keep the American people safe. As a social worker, I would like to see the same expediency used to process the refugees so they can receive help. The situation for refugees can be traumatic and they will assistance to work through this difficult time.

  13. Many in Congress, along with most Governors, have confused the victims of terrorism with its perpetrators. In fact, the millions of refugees worldwide have suffered the effects of terrorism, dictatorship, criminal violence, and ethnic and religious oppression. Many Americans seem to have failed to make the distinction between the oppressors, such as ISIS, and the oppressed.

  14. Is anyone here upset that the Islamic Extremists Terrorists are discriminating against Christians around the world, as well as discriminating against France, Russia, Great Britain and the U.S.?

  15. Everyone write to your senators!

  16. We can reach out and help people around the world in a kind, caring manner without bringing them onto U.S. soil. It is more humane and loving to help them where they live instead of displacing them further into a different culture, different language and thousands of miles from their homes.

    If we are to be truly humane as a nation, then we need to address the problems causing the refugee crisis in Europe and the huge influx of illegal aliens coming from South America and Mexico.

    • I’ve never heard anyone with the true heart of a social worker say the words “illegal aliens”

      • I have been a Social Worker, President of a Mega Chapter of NASW and President of a state Chapter of SSWLHC over the past 3 decades. “Illegal aliens” is the legal term for non-citizens in the country without a visa or other documentation. If a U.S. citizen goes into Mexico without a passport or other legal documentation, that person is an “illegal alien” in the eyes of the Mexican govenment (who, by the way, would immediately detain and prosecute without question).

        What is wrong with asking our government to take action to prevent the need for people to seek refuge away from their own countries and help them where they live? What is wrong with requiring our government to protect the security of its citizens by preventing religious extremists from murdering us?

        • What is wrong is that we already have a process that typically takes in excess of two years to assess the fitness,and refugee status of people asking to come here. Ten million people have been displaced by the evil acts of a heinous group of villains. That is not a small group of people leaving their ancestral home by plane to try to come here to kill us. We are talking about people whose country and livelihood have been destroyed. They seek a place to exist…and risk their lives to escape. Ten thousand is a pittance of this total and I applaud our president for volunteering the compassionate services of this nation of immigrants.

  17. Well done! Proud to be a member!

  18. As an a soon to be MSW I am struggling to stand by my government’s decision of the Safe Act. I have vowed to do no harm and reach out ot every and any individual in crisis, this includes displaced Syrian’s fleeing for their lives and the lives of their families. I am in no way anti-American. I was born on the fourth of July and have patriotism coming out of my ears. This however bothers me to my core of human beliefs. President Obama is a man I voted for, twice. I believed in him and his ideals but this American Safe Act goes against everything America stands for. “Bring us your tired, your hungry, your poor,” stated on the Statue of Liberty has been the foundation of this country for centuries. My question is, how would the people developing this act feel and where would they be right now if this was the standard for their European ancestors that first settled here in the new world? I am half Italian and half Mohawk, a house of the Iroquois people. I do not hate the world for what was done to my ancestors and I do not hate the Syrians just because social media and the powers that be want me to. I am a social worker and would be glad to stand on the front lines to stand in opposition of this discrimination. I am a social worker. DO no harm. Man has the ability to destroy all things but also the ability to heal and love the world today, but for some reason, love is losing out to fear. Educate yourselves before you pass this bill and ask yourself, Where would I be today if this had happened to my grandfather or grandmother that came here during WWII?

  19. Thank you so much for this statement! So proud to be a social worker.

  20. I stand behind the brave souls that have left everything they have known just for the hope of keeping themselves and there families alive. May they find peace, hospitality, and safety. Much love to all

  21. M.A. Rodriguez, MSW

    Amen! Glad NASW made their stance public!

  22. Heather Christensen, LCSW

    So very proud to be a social worker!

  23. Please let us know if there is anything more we can do to help.

  24. Governor Beshear has done us proud in Kentucky. Wish we could have kept him longer.

    • Thanks Nancy for representing KY!

    • I agree with you. Governor Beshear has been a blessing to this state. I, too wish we could have kept him longer. It was a dark day when Matt Bevin was elected*. I am truly concerned about some of his ideas.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>