NASW Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Nov 23, 2015


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.

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