CAPITOL HILL - U.S. senators of both major political parties tell VOA the United States must help address Syria’s humanitarian crisis and the massive outpouring of migrants from the war-ravaged country.
“As a nation we bear some responsibility for what’s happening,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“The Europeans have been very good in stepping up, but we are going to have to also,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. “We are going to have to take in refugees here.”
The Obama administration last week announced plans to admit 10,000 Syrian migrants to the United States.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said, “The United States feels it is important for us to also take our share of Syrian refugees as part of this overall humanitarian effort."
To that end, Obama urged cooperation among European nations, the United States and the international community.
US can do more
“That’s a start,” Democratic Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia said of the administration’s plan. “When you compare that with what Lebanon is doing,?housing over a million, Turkey over 2 million, Jordan a million, I just think there is a lot more we can do.”
Kaine added, “Let’s create a safe zone in Syria where people who want to be in their home county can return to live safely.”
Corker sounded a note of exasperation at the mention of a Syrian safe zone.
“We were advocating for this a year ago or longer. It was something that Turkey was advocating for. But our administration did not want to do something that was viewed as countering Assad directly,” Corker said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Fellow Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine also laid blame for the Syrian crisis at Obama’s feet.
“The problem is that the president has completely lacked a strategy for solving the problem at its root,” said Collins. “I see this only getting worse. I don’t see how a country like Jordan can take more refugees, or Lebanon. They are overwhelmed already.“
Leahy pointed to a different culprit.
“Enormous responsibility is [with] the head of Syria, who probably is facing a special place in hell when he dies for what he has done to that country,” he said.
Kaine said there was plenty of blame to go around.
“We can’t say it’s all the president’s fault,” he said. “Look, we had a vote on whether to use military force in Syria against the humanitarian nightmare of chemical weapons. A lot of people who talked tough up until the vote voted 'no.'"
Kaine added, “I think the massive number of refugees, the largest refugee crisis since World War II, suggests that we have all fallen short of what we should do.”
Corker said it was too soon to decide the precise number of Syrian migrants the United States should admit. His committee has scheduled a series of hearings on the Syrian crisis beginning Wednesday.
Corker said Obama has broad discretion in deciding how many Syrians to take in, but that Congress has a role to play as well, particularly in the appropriation of funds needed to support the effort.
Overall, the senators told VOA they were aghast at the unfolding situation in Syria and beyond.
“I see kids the age of my grandchildren dying. This is shocking,” said Leahy.
“The things that are occurring are things you never imagine would occur in the year 2015,” said Corker. “Maybe in 1015, but not 2015.”