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Refugee Advocates Want To Use This Moment To Push The U.S. To Do More To Help Syrians

With a humanitarian crisis making headlines around the world, refugee advocates want to use the sudden global focus to push the U.S. government to take in more Syrians.

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In the past week, the staff of U.S. refugee advocacy groups have been receiving an influx of emails from Syrian refugees asking for their help in getting to America.

"The emails are desperate, begging, pleading," Stacie Blake, director of Government and Community Relations for the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, told BuzzFeed News. "I received 10 just yesterday. That may not seem like a lot, but if you think of the person who has the wherewithal, internet access, and the English to track me down through the website and ask for myself, it's pretty astonishing."

"But the government isn't letting us help them," said Blake, who is one of many advocates frustrated by what they say has been a paltry effort by the U.S. in resettling Syrian refugees.

As the world reels from pictures of dead Syrian toddlers washing up on Mediterranean shores and hordes of desperate asylum-seekers marching on foot down Hungarian highways to their promised land of Germany, refugee advocates are hoping the sudden intense global focus on the humanitarian disaster will put pressure on the Obama administration to accept a lot more refugees.

The U.S. has resettled just 1,500 of the 4 million people who have fled Syria due to that country's long-running civil war. In addition to the overwhelmed neighboring countries, many have flocked to Europe, with leaders there now grappling with an influx of refugees not seen since World War II.

Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, told BuzzFeed News that refugees will continue making the risky Mediterranean voyage and European pilgrimage without a dramatic intake from the U.S.

"There's nothing we can really do," Hetfield said of the replies he sends refugees who email him. "We just have to say, 'Go through the formal channels,' but the truth is they'll be stuck waiting forever, end up giving up, getting on a boat, and risking their lives."

Three advocacy groups contacted by BuzzFeed News want President Obama to lift the current limit on the number of total refugees the U.S. accepts each year from 70,000 to 100,000.

The International Rescue Committee, however, is pushing for 65,000 refugees from Syria alone to be resettled in the U.S. by the end of 2016. "The US has historically been the world leader in recognizing the moral obligation to resettle refugees. But in the four years of the Syria crisis there has been inertia rather than leadership," IRC President David Miliband said in a statement.

Matthew Soerens, the U.S. church training specialist for World Relief, said his organization had received more support since the refugee crisis began dominating global headlines in recent days.

"Attention to the crisis only allows us to serve people better," he said. "We have more donations, more volunteers."

Stacie Blake said her organization is making preparations for "if and when" more Syrians begin arriving on U.S. soil. Housing, employment, education will all need to be addressed, she said, as well simpler things like clothing.

Advocates have also sent volunteers, many of them Syrians themselves, to knock on doors to continue to raise awareness.

Mark Hetfield said he had been frustrated that it had taken a shocking photo of a dead Syrian toddler whose migrant boat had sunk to refocus public attention on the long-running civil war.

"In August, 252 kids were killed in Syria, and yet the photo of this one child angers the world," he said. "But we’re hoping this one child will end up saving many lives."

Ema O'Connor is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Ema O'Connor at ema.oconnor@buzzfeed.com.

David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.

Contact David Mack at david.mack@buzzfeed.com.

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