Government Offers Protection for Syrians in the US

In a statement issued on Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced that the Obama administration will designate Syria for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), offering Syrians currently living in the US a chance to stay in the country while the Assad regime continues its brutal suppression of the pro-democracy movement.

Finding that “Syrian nationals already in the United States would face serious threats to their personal safety if they were to return to their home country,” Napolitano announced that she will issue regulations early this week to provide further guidance about eligibility requirements and registration procedures. For Syrians who have fled the violence that has left thousands dead over the past year, this announcement is welcome news.

The government has in the past designated countries for TPS in cases of ongoing armed conflict or civil war, environmental disasters, and other extraordinary and temporary conditions. For example, people escaping the armed conflicts in Sudan and Somalia, as well as Haitians who were in the US when a catastrophic earthquake struck Port-au-Prince in 2010, have been able to remain in the US lawfully with TPS.

While TPS does not confer permanent immigration status on beneficiaries, it does prevent their removal to their home countries while TPS remains in effect. TPS also allows those who qualify to obtain work authorization while they are living in the US.

In this case, Syrians who were in the US on or before a date to be designated by Secretary Napolitano, and who meet the qualifications for TPS will be allowed to remain in the US for 18 months. Depending on the situation in Syria at that time, the Obama administration may choose to extend the TPS designation, as it has in many other cases. While Syrians who arrive in the US after the designation date will not benefit from TPS, they may still be eligible to apply for asylum or other forms of protection.

The violence in Syria has escalated over the past year as protesters have filled the streets to call for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad and an end to the nearly 50-year reign of the Ba’ath Party. Among the thousands who have been killed by government security forces are at least 55 medical professionals, who have been caught up in government attacks on hospitals and individually targeted for assassination after treating wounded protestors. Physicians for Human Rights has documented these atrocities and issued a report detailing the Syrian government’s assault on the country’s medical system.

The administration’s designation of TPS is an acknowledgement that the crisis in Syria is not likely to end anytime soon. PHR has called on the Syrian government to immediately cease all attacks on civilians and respect the principle of medical neutrality, and urges the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court so that the most serious perpetrators can be held accountable for their crimes.

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