New York, NY, August 1, 2019 — Reports today indicate the Trump administration will extend but not re-designate Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syria. While the reported decision extends TPS for approximately 7,000 Syrians in the U.S. who are currently TPS holders, it places an arbitrary date on eligibility which could ultimately result in the forcible return to an active war zone of thousands of Syrian citizens who currently do not benefit from TPS, solely on the basis of when they arrived in America.
“TPS provides critical safety for civilians who cannot return to their countries of origin. By establishing an arbitrary cut-off date, today’s decision ignores the reality on the ground, potentially forcing thousands to return to a fundamentally unsafe environment from which people continue to flee,” said Nazanin Ash, Vice President, Global Policy and Advocacy at the International Rescue Committee. "The U.S. Government itself acknowledges that ‘no part of Syria is safe from violence.’ Why then would it refuse to protect Syrians here in the United States from forcible return to Syria?"
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) continues to condemn the elimination of pathways to safety in America. The arbitrary decision to protect some Syrians through TPS while excluding others leaves vulnerable Syrians in harm’s way. Likewise, the United States has only welcomed 461 Syrian refugees in fiscal year-to-date 2019; a 96 percent drop from FY 2016. The U.S. State Department has also issued a “Do Not Travel” warning for U.S. citizens, its most severe warning, recognizing that Syria suffers from terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping, and armed conflict. It cites that “no part of Syria is safe from violence” and that those visiting should draft a will.
Syria continues to be one of the largest ongoing humanitarian and political failures of the international community. The defining characteristic of this war is its disregard for civilian life and international humanitarian law. Throughout the conflict, civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, continue to be targets of barrel bombs, mortars and airstrikes, and more children have been killed in the last month in Syria than in all of last year.
Though an agreed ceasefire exists in the so-called demilitarized zone in Northwest Syria, there is an increase of air attacks in Northwest Syria which have forced more than 440,000 people to flee in southern Idlib and northern Hama since May. The IRC in Syria continues its call for a commitment to protecting civilians and a recommitment to the Geneva peace process. According to the UN, just in the last month at least six health facilities, five schools, three water stations, two bakeries and one ambulance have been damaged or destroyed.
The decision not to use TPS as a critical tool to protect all Syrians in the U.S. from forcible return to harm begs the question of whether there is any at-risk population the administration would protect. The IRC urges the administration to ensure that all Syrians have access to protection and to reconsider its decision and re-designate Syria for TPS. We continue to call on Congress to enact a permanent solution for those who are left behind by this and previous TPS decisions.
The IRC has been delivering aid in Syria since 2012, and last year IRC and partners delivered services to over a million people in the country. In Northwest Syria, IRC and partners are providing healthcare, cash, and other vital services to thousands of people displaced by the recent escalation in violence.