U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., just returned from the Middle East and says the United States should begin immediately to start vetting Syrians for refugee status here.
The senator, who toured Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Jordan for five days, said America should take in a “meaningful” number of people displaced by the war in Syria, somewhere in the neighborhood of 50,000.
The state’s junior senator said the people he talked to overseas were taken aback by the “cold-heartedness” of the U.S. for not responding to the humanitarian crisis in a more robust way.
He said they “place the blame at the feet of the U.S.” for the unfolding crisis where millions are on the march. Murphy said it was characterized as a variation of: you broke it, now you have to fix it.
Murphy said all the officials he encountered were in favor of the Iran nuclear treaty as something that will leave the region safer.
Even though they were concerned with the increasing influence of Iran in the area, the senator said they agreed it would be a much more dangerous situation if there were no deal.
He welcomed the decision by his colleague in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to back the treaty, as well as the decision by U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, who accompanied Murphy to the Middle East.
Both on Tuesday announced their support for the treaty, thus guaranteeing 41 votes to more than sustain a veto by President Barack Obama, if Congress rejects the proposed pact. Murphy said he did not lobby the two senators to join him, which would have been inappropriate. The remaining members of Connecticut’s federal delegation support the pact.
Murphy wasn’t sure if the 41 will back a filibuster to keep the vote from happening. He said a vote of disapproval should stop before it gets to Obama’s desk. Murphy said a veto of the treaty would be “embarrassing” to the president and harm the country’s standing.
He referred to the veto favored by Republicans as a “procedural charade” and asked what was the benefit to the country to force a veto, when the outcome is known.
The senator said the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq “lit the flame” and he sees a direct line from that war to the rise of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levan,) although the sectarianism in Iraq under the current and previous regimes added to the rise of terrorism.
Murphy, in a telephone conference with the press, said Syria would likely have had a civil war without the Iraq War, but the added complication of ISIL “is traceable to the U.S. invasion and occupation.”
The senator said the U.S. already has a system for vetting the Syrians, which he said was put into effect for the “train and equip” program the U.S. attempted to put in place as a fighting force of moderates opposed to ISIL.
As an aside, Murphy said this training program was a bigger “disaster than I could ever have imagined” with only 54 recruits exercising a “meaningless” impact. He said it is “not a worthwhile endeavor,” and should be abandoned with our resources put into humanitarian aid.
Murphy said he is confident that Homeland Security can successfully vet Syrians headed to the U.S., but it will need to convince Congress its process is “air tight,” to keep out people with “bad intentions.”
Murphy said he would prioritize the list by going first to the “most vulnerable,” such as women and children, those who are sick or injured or have been victims of torture.
He described the conditions in the Zaatari camp in Jordan where 80,000 are “packed like sardines” with no sewage system and little electricity as a “hellhole” where 250 people are leaving daily to go back to Syria, putting themselves and their families at risk of being killed, rather then continue to stay there.
Murphy said the majority of those in the camp are under 18 years of age with only some in makeshift schools, while the rest try to make money for their families. He said the future for the girls, according to one aid organization, is to be sold into marriage in their mid-teens or end up dead. The senator wants the U.S. to work to not let this happen.
“We were literally surrounded by little kids” wandering the streets, digging sewage latrines for their families, he said of the camp.
“These fourth-graders we sat down with, they are not terrorists. Their moms are not terrorists,” he said.
Murphy described an obstetric area where three women to a room give birth, only to be returned to their tin structures four hours postpartum.
“These families have given up hope,” he said of the conditions.
Murphy said the U.S. should fully fund the World Food Program, which continues to feed refugees in the camps, but has run out of money for the remaining 1.3 million Syrians outside the camps in Jordan or the million split up between Turkey, Lebanon and Iraq.
He said it is not only the correct thing to do, it is also in our national security interest. If they are not fed in Iraq and Jordan, the refugees will go elsewhere and ISIL will come to their aid, Murphy said.
Murphy, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Near East, South Asia, Central Asia and Counterterrorism, said the failure of the U.S. to solve the humanitarian crisis “comes at a great cost to us.”
He elaborated that the United States “can’t be an honest broker” on the issues of peace in Iraq, Syria and Yemen - after the Iran treaty goes into effect - if the refugee crisis were to continue to grow.
On another topic, Murphy said he was frustrated with the lack of political reconciliation in Iraq and said they witnessed how fragile it was when the Iraqi leader withdrew his support for the Sunni National Guard over a political slight.
He said the U.S. can’t continue to be his military protectorate without some reconciliation among the population in Iraq.