As global threat increases and wartime efforts continue, displacement does as well. The war in Syria and neighboring areas has already displaced roughly 4 million seeking refuge in other countries with another 7.6 million internally displaced and the numbers continue to rise. Unfortunately, with the special brand of terror war that Daesh (commonly known as ISIS or ISIL) is conducting, the number of voices calling out to refuse refuge is on the rise as well.
After the tragic events that have unfolded in Paris, Beirut, and Kano, just three of the most prolific and deadly of the twenty five investigated acts of violence that could be classified as terror attacks since Nov. 1, and a Syrian passport was found near the body of a suspected perpetrator in Paris, the number of people calling for closed borders spiked drastically. One such statistic includes 27 of the 50 US state governors that have opposed letting refugees into their states. Before opinions can be made though, understanding the crisis and responses is of utmost importance.
Generally the subject can be split up into three topics:
- What is a refugee and why/what are they fleeing
- How well do screening processes, specifically the US’, actually work
- Why are these lawmakers calling to end the refugee program
1) What is a refugee and why/what are they fleeing?
When tragic event like those that unfolded in France, Lebanon, and Nigeria occur, a general sense of panic ensues. In the weeks and months following the 11th of September, 2001, when two hijacked planes struck the Twin Towers, air traffic slowed dramatically, ironically causing substantially more travel based deaths than average because of the increased danger on the roads. That’s not to say all panic is bad, our country’s post-9/11 security was increased greatly because of the fear of exploitation. What more humanitarian groups are saying though, is blaming all refugees and denying them stay because of one possible breach in security is a definite case of bad panic.
By definition, a refugees is “a person who is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” With the addition of the newer Daesh threats, Syrians have been fleeing their home as refugees for nearly five years.
Which brings up a good point. A common misconception is that Daesh is the only reason Syrians are fleeing.
Actually, the civil war raging since Syrian militants opened fire on protesters in 2011 was the start to the largest forced migration since World War II. In fact, it’s arguable that the Syrian conflict ultimately gave rise to the so called Islamic State. Additionally, not all of the people leaving Syria are necessarily refugees. There is a clear distinction between refugee and migrant, most importantly involving the international law dictating treatment of them. Refugees, for example, are protected against deportation back to the country they fled. This is actually, in part, the reason the US is having a harder time than other countries. The US is only allowing refugees in, requiring substantial proof that non-migrant classification ought to be made.
2) How well do screening processes, specifically the US’, actually work?
Before refugees are allowed refuge in a country, they are put through one of the most rigorous screening processes in the world. Ultimately, the process makes sure they can be trusted to follow law and that they are who they say they are. The US’ employs the FBI, Homeland Security, state governments, and the Department of Defense to cross reference biometric and visa/identification information as well as conduct in person interviews with every applicant.
As far as the effectiveness of these efforts goes, there are few ways that it could be improved on. Since the tragedies of 2001, national security has ramped up greatly. Just under 800,000 refugees have been resettled with the involvement of the US and exactly three of them have been arrested on the grounds of “terrorist activities”. Kathleen Newland (MPI) says
“It is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”
Ultimately, screening isn’t fault proof, but what many pro-refugee lawmakers are saying is there are easier ways to get into the country without getting biometrics, fingerprints, and their entire personal history brought up.
3) Why are these lawmakers calling to end the refugee program?
In light of the recent attacks, 27 state governors have expressed interest in at least temporarily suspending the refugee resettlement program including Paul Ryan, who said, while refusing to support making cuts to muslim immigration, adding “that’s not who we are,” also pointed out there were reasons to fear the admittance of people meaning to do the US harm through the refugee program.
It would be a mistake to imagine these governors and lawmakers as staunchly against refugees in general. Most are merely calling to proceed with a greater sense of caution, and that right now, that calls for the temporary suspension of the resettlement program. McCaul, Texas district 10 representative and Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, sent a letter to Obama recently saying
“Our nation has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees into our country, but in this particular case the high-threat environment demands that we move forward with greater caution,”
On the other side, a leader in pro-refugee programs is ironically France. In September, Hollande committed France to accepting 24,000 refugees over the course of the next two years, and Saturday, the day after Paris was the victim of bombings and shootings resulting in 129 deaths and 430 injuries, he spoke with local governments about his decision to raise that number to 30,000 over the next two years, calling it their “humanitarian duty”.
Ultimately, this controversy isn’t nearly as easy as some make it seem. Selflessness is a admirable trait, but when should the line be drawn and when should global entities, entire countries, choose themselves over risking selflessness?