Monday, November 23, 2015

Why the US should welcome Syrian refugees without prejudice

A meme circulating the internet these days goes,

“Before you condemn Syrian refugees, make sure you never said ‘All Lives Matter’.”

The irony is clear. The fate of Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has been put in limbo in the aftermath of the November 13th terrorist attacks in Paris, as seen by an increase in the US of anti-refugee rhetoric.

Initially, 31 state governors announced that they will not allow the Syrian refugees to enter their respective states. Then, on November 19, 2015, the US Congress passed a bill by over a two-thirds majority to,

“…halt the admission of Syrian refugees until they undergo a more stringent vetting process.”

Such demagoguery takes advantage of the “find a scapegoat” mentality, a shame. The argument, “one terrorist can wreak havoc so why take the risk,” is only valid in a superficial sense. Politicians and media should not exploit fear, instead, we should use facts and history to inform why, morally and strategically, refugees from Syria should be welcomed without prejudice.

Consider how, in 1939, the SS St Louis arrived off the coast of Florida full of Jews fleeing persecution deriving from the rise of the Nazi Party, Nuremburg Laws, and groundwork for the Final Solution. Havana rejected the Jews, as did Florida and Canada, and thus 900 immigrants returned to Europe. Over a quarter were killed by the Nazis. How different would the world be had European Jews been able to resettle in the US?

That was yesterday. Fast forward to the present – in a thorough analysis the CATO Institute concludes:

“We have very little to fear from (Syrians) because the refugee vetting system is so thorough.”

USA Today adds:

“The current screening process for refugees is done by the National Counterterrorism Centre, the FBI and the departments of Homeland Security, State and Defence. The background checks include fingerprinting, medical screenings and lengthy interviews of refugees before they enter the US.”

The average refugee will spend up to two years, sometimes more, in a camp. Terrorists do not patiently wait. Rather, they seek asylum or student visas. Many are home grown. Look at the Paris terrorists or the Boston marathon bombers, the former European citizens and the latter of a family granted asylum.

Since 9/11, the US has taken in thousands of refugees from not only Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and other conflict regions. How many have formed sleeper cells for al Qaeda or the Taliban? A closer look at the statistics shows that the total number of attacks committed by refugees amounts to… are you ready?


It’s fair to use extreme caution in the vetting process and not be naïve to the risk. And as the existing process replicates this, we should remain confident. And to those who say that it’s not our responsibility, that we should use diplomacy to put pressure on other countries so assist (Gulf States, are you listening?), I’d say fair enough. But this is not the time to play “what about?” Rather, now, and hopefully always, is the time to act benevolently for the sake of humanity.

from The Express Tribune Blog

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