30 May 2016: last November I met with asylum officers at US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to give a historical briefing of the Syrian conflict and to discuss the Syrian refugee movement. The meeting was facilitated by UC Berkeley’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and today a brief piece on the meeting appears in their Spring 2016 newsletter. The full piece can be accessed here (page 10).
Fahrenthold gave a brief history of Syria’s 2011 uprising and civil war. The discussion then moved into the complications that displaced Syrians face after leaving Syria, including de facto denationalization by the Assad regime (which since 2013 has denied passports to Syrians in refugee camps or otherwise unable to return to Syria), transnational harassment by Syrian police and intelligence agents, or imprisonment and torture of family members still inside Syria. Each of these challenges further complicate the already-fraught task facing USCIS: how does one prioritize refugee claims, particularly when the documents they carry might be out-of-date, expired, or missing altogether? Though the discussion raised more questions than answers, one conclusion became evident: that for as long as the U.S. resettlement process takes, it is in some small way a means of undercutting the dangerous human trafficking that has become a defining feature of Europe’s refugee crisis.