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  • Claire Tran

Vietnam and Syria: America’s Responses to Refugee Crises

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, the world faced its largest refugee crisis since World War II. Escaping the new communist regime, innocent families from Southeast Asia fled across the globe in search of a new life. Within two years following the end of the Vietnam War, more than 175,000 Vietnamese refugees relocated to the Unites States. Now, the world is experiencing déjà vu with another refugee crisis, this time in the Middle East. Within the past five years, the United States has accepted only 2,234 Syrian refugees. This discrepancy between admission of Vietnamese and Syrian refugees is caused by not just a 41-year difference but also a possible threat to American security.

The United Nations addressed the Vietnamese refugee crisis by increasing the quotas for legal immigration and redefining refugee status for the escapees. The United States, who already played a large role in the Vietnam War, spent an additional $500 million solely for refugee relocation and services. Though in Syria, the United States is taking a different approach. Instead of delegating resources towards refugee assistance, such as after the Vietnam War, the United States is now focusing its efforts towards more on material goods and services for those still in the Middle East.

Providing necessities such as food, shelter, and water, along with “psychological, social, and medical support for women and children,” the United States has provided more than $4 billion in humanitarian assistance to Syria, the most from any other country. Through the United States’ hospitals and clinics across Syria, over 2 million patients have been treated. Though the United States has provided so much aid in Syria itself, it has faced many obstructions from actually relocating civilians into the U.S, such as the United States did with Vietnamese refugees.

The ongoing conflict of the Syrian civil war has “[hindered] the delivery of urgent, lifesaving assistance to those in need inside Syria”, says John Kirby, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. The different political groups surrounding the Syrian war has made the United States respond much differently than during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese communists never intimidated the United States with any terror or attacks, unlike ISIS or other extremist groups in the Middle East. This discrepancy has caused the United States to be weary of the number of the Syrian refugees it is letting it.

“I just want to make sure we have the proper procedures,” says John McCain, Arizona Senator and former POW during the Vietnam War, “to make sure that they are not going to commit acts of terror because we know that’s what [ISIS] wants to do.” Whereas the United States responded to the end of the Vietnam War with accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees, the U.S. is now responding to the Syrian civil war with less refugee acceptances and more humanitarian goods and services, due to possible threats from inside.

However, the threat of dangerous refugees from Syria may not be as probable as the American public believes it to be. All refugees are screened through the National Counterterrorism Center, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Defense Department, the State Department, and the US Customs and Border Protection. For those specifically from Syria, there’s another step, dubbed the Enhanced Syrian Review, which goes through Citizenship and Immigration Services and the Fraud Detection and National Security Directorate offices. With the United States’ extensive screening process for refugees, which can take multiple years, the probability of an imminent threat from a Syrian refugee may be lower than expected.

Though President Obama has promised the United States would admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, still only a few are trickling in. Many have called for the United States to become more involved, such as David Miliband, the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Claiming that the international response to this crisis has been “wholly inadequate,” he calls upon the United States, “a country that has long been recognized as a humanitarian leader in refugee resettlement, [to] once again must lead at this most critical moment.” The United States was once a major actor in refugee resettlement, and now that the world is experiencing a similar crisis, the United States should be ready and willing to act with the same fervor and humanity.

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