Opposition to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States comes in two all too familiar forms: fear and ignorance. There is the fear of terrorism, along with typical fears related to immigration such as perceived economic threats and cultural change. Then there is the ignorance of the type the equates human life to Skittles (see, Donald Trump Jr), and that simply misunderstands the intensive screening process through which refugees enter and are resettled in our country.
There are legitimate questions of national security which should be, and are, addressed within this legal path of refugee resettlement. Illegal migration is outside the scope of these refugee resettlement programs - and in part for this reason, people should support the expansion of such existing programs to ensure the legalized, thoroughly monitored and safe resettlement of such refugees while fulfilling our moral commitment.
Recently, President Barack Obama called a Leader’s Summit on Refugees, following the United Nation’s first-ever Summit on Large Movements of Migrants and Refugees. It also followed a collapsed (although thought to be promising) ceasefire agreement between the United States and Russia in the Syrian Conflict, which was designed to provide critical humanitarian aid to civilians in Aleppo and potentially frame peace talks. At the summit, President Obama announced that his administration would seek to welcome 110,000 refugees from around the world in this upcoming fiscal year, a 60 percent increase from 2015. The announcement was, quite frankly, lamented by humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International and world leaders for being too little, too late. Nonetheless, while congressional support seems unlikely, President Obama and the next president must remain steadfast in welcoming more Syrian refugees through this process.
The multi-sided, five-year conflict is the humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. It has left almost half a million dead, 4.8 million as refugees, and 6.1 million as internally displaced persons. Given the length of the conflict and lack of action, it can now be said that hundreds of thousands of Syrian children have grown up in refugee camps. Three-point-seven million school-age children have no school to go to, according to a newly released UNHCR report, and Syrian children risk becoming a lost generation.
This past Tuesday, the European Union launched its largest humanitarian aid project for these Syrian refugees yet in Turkey: one million Syrian refugees will receive monthly electronic cash grants to serve as a basic source of income to cover necessities such as food, water, shelter, and transportation for individuals and their families. Both the scope and depth of the investment from Brussels are striking, reaffirming the European Union’s commitment to the successful resettlement of refugees - as the grants will help refugees become more secure, better integrated into Turkish and European life and contribute in the local workforce and community.
Increasing the number of Syrian refugees resettled in the United States is the very least we can do. European countries took in a total of 1.3 million refugees in 2015, against which 110,000 spread across the entire United States - not even all of which are Syrian - simply pales in comparison. Explanations for this lack of American leadership may seem unclear, but the lack of a moral consensus is anything but. Perhaps due to geographical distance or Islamophobia, we are either lacking in feelings of empathy and moral responsibility, or the wave of fear is enough to overwhelm and all but eliminate them.
There are many myths surrounding Syrian refugees and the process by which they enter the United States. Refugee applicants begin by identifying themselves to the United Nations, which collects identifying documents and does a preliminary screening to confirm need for resettlement. Less than one percent of these applicants’ files are even received by the United States’ Resettlement Support Center, which then conducts additional background checks in cooperation with agencies such as the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and State Department. The background check and interview process for Syrian refugees are specifically tailored to relevant security concerns. This all takes places before such potentially refugees are permitted to travel to the United States, after which refugees are given a year to apply for a green card.
Regardless of the process, it is most important to remember: “Refugees are not terrorists. Many refugees are victims of terrorists.” According to the State Department, only 2,234 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States as of November 2015 via this process. While this has dramatically changed over 2,000 lives, it is hardly a statistic to be very proud of - a drop in the bucket, given the scope of the crisis and our resources. Going forward, the federal government must increase this number and support states in refugee relocation.