Refugees prefer war-torn Syria over life in U.S., Haley insists

An unlikely explanation for why the U.S. takes in so few Syrian refugees.

A Syrian boy walks next to laundry at a camp for displaced Syrians from the former rebel bastion of Douma. CREDIT: Zein Al RIFAI
A Syrian boy walks next to laundry at a camp for displaced Syrians from the former rebel bastion of Douma. CREDIT: Zein Al RIFAI

Washington’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley offered an implausible explanation for why more Syrian refugees don’t come to the United States to escape the death and destruction that has shattered their wartorn country: They simply aren’t interested in coming, she says.

Fewer than a dozen Syrian refugees have been admitted to settle in the United States this year,  a jaw-dropping figure compared to the many thousands who have fled to far more welcoming countries in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere.

When asked by Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace about the small number of Syrian refugees welcomed to the US, Haley said that she has personally interviewed Syrians refugees who told her they were simply disinclined to resettle in America.

“When I talk to the refugees, what I talk to them about [is] they want to go home,” she said.  “There is a mountain that they look over and know what’s on the other side and they know that Syria is in shambles and they’re prepared to rebuild it.”

Haley said she gathered this information during her visits to countries in the region.
“I personally went to the refugee sites in both Jordan and Turkey. I spent time with refugees whether they were in camps or whether they were out and I talked to them about the situation at hand,” she said.

“Not one of the many that I talked to ever said, ‘We want to go to America’,” the U.S. envoy continued.

“They want to stay as close to Syria as they can so that when, God willing, this fighting stops and when there is finally stability and peace in that area, they want to go rejoin their family members. They want to go back to what they remember,” she said.


The devastating civil conflict has ravaged Syria since 2011. Since then, desperate Syrians in some instances have walked hundreds of miles and crossed treacherous waters in less-than-seaworthy vessels to try to build new lives abroad.

The conditions under which Syrians have been forced to survive are almost unimaginable, as they endure recurring indiscriminate bomb and munition attacks on homes, hospitals, schools, markets and other areas where civilians are likely to congregate.

The UN envoy for Syria estimates that in the first five years of the conflict, some 400,000 people were killed in the conflict. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 5 million people have fled the country and another 6 million are internally displaced.

Yet, Haley maintains that rosy feelings of nostalgia compel Syrians to cling to hope for a life in devastated and dangerous homeland, rather than resettling in the United States. She made her remarks two days after the US, along with France and Britain, launched a bombing raid on Syrian targets to punish Damascus for using chemical weapons on civilians.

The irony has not been lost on some administration critics, like U.S. Senator Chris Murphy.

In the rather unlikely case that Syrians are disinterested in coming to the United States, it is a disinclination they’ve only come to just this year. The minuscule number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States this year pales in comparison to the numbers who arrived in 2016 (15,000) and in 2017 (3,000) according to State Department figures.
It seems more likely that rather than disinterest, anti-Muslim immigration politics can explain why more Syrians haven’t come to the U.S. As one of the first acts after his swearing in, Trump promulgated an immigration ban that targeted mostly inhabitants of Muslim-majority countries and his administration has been tireless in its efforts to fend off legal challenges to the measure.