The United States and the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Syrian refugee crisis has become a hot-button issue politically and on social media. This is a complex issue that cannot be boiled down to a 30-second sound bite or Facebook meme, so I thought I’d explore some of the topics that have twisted a whole bunch of knickers.

1.  Should the United States accept any Syrian refugees?

Yes. It is not only our moral responsibility, but our legal one as well. During WW II, the United States was just one of many countries to deny asylum to Jews fleeing Europe and the Third Reich. When the war was over, and the scope of the genocide was fully revealed, people around the world were outraged by the treatment of the refugees. This lead to significant changes in policies regarding the treatment and asylum of refugees worldwide.

In 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed that everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. In 1950, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was created. And in 1951, the United Nations Convention on Refugees laid the foundation for the basic international obligation not to return people to countries where their life or freedom would be threatened, an obligation the United States accepted in 1968.” (Refugees Today. Retrieved from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum)

In addition, the United States currently accepts up to 70,000 refugees annually from all over the world, including predominately Muslim countries.

“We anticipate continued strong arrivals of Iraqi, Burmese, and Bhutanese refugees. From Africa, we will see continued arrivals of Somali refugees, and expect a steady increase in Congolese refugee arrivals during this fiscal year and in future years as UNHCR increases its referrals of Congolese.”

(Testimony: Anne C. Richard; Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Statement Submitted for the Record to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights. Washington, DC. January 7, 2014.)

2.   Isn’t there a risk of terrorists entering the U.S. under the guise of being “refugees” like some of the Paris attackers used fake Syrian passports to enter France?

Yes. There is always a risk that someone could “slip through the cracks” and make it to our shores. However, since 9/11 all refugees have to go through extensive background checks by both the United Nations and the United States before being granted asylum in the U.S. This process can take 12-24 months.

Also, the U.S. focuses on the “vulnerable of the vulnerable”; prioritizing children, the elderly, victims of torture, and those with disabilities.

Since the start of the war in Syria in 2011, the United States has granted asylum to less than 200 of the over 3 million Syrian refugees. Increasing resettlements to 10,000 in 2015 is a drop in the bucket and does not pose a significant threat to our national security.

According to James Hathaway, director of the University of Michigan Law School’s refugee and asylum law program, “It is ridiculous for governors to rationalize their isolationist posture on security grounds.” (Referring to the 31 state governors who say they won’t allow Syrian refugees to be resettled in their respective states)

This is politically motivated blustering and has no affect other than to incite fear and ignorance. Once the refugees arrive and are settled in states that will accept them, they will have the right to move wherever they want anyway.

3. Why should the Syrian refugees get housing and employment help when homeless veterans are living (and dying) on our streets?

First, let me preface this discussion with the fact that current statistical data on people who are homeless is difficult to obtain because it is very hard to track a very transient population.

The following statistics are from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s June 2010 Assessment Report to Congress (2010 AHAR). Retrieved from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

  • On a given night, 407,966 individuals were homeless in shelters, housing programs, or on the streets (this number does not include persons living with family or friends).
  • Over the course of a year (October 2009 – September 2010), the 2010 AHAR found that 1,593,150 persons experienced homelessness.

And according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans:

  • About 12% of the adult homeless population are veterans (or approximately 48,956 on a given night)
  • The majority are single, live in urban areas and suffer from mental illness, alcohol and/or substance abuse, or a combination of disorders.
  • A large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance abuse, which are compounded by a lack of family and social support networks. Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment.

It is a tragedy that any person has to experience homelessness, let alone those who served their country honorably. My husband is retired from the Air Force so I have a deep respect for all military service members and their families.

I don’t think that the Syrian refugees will be getting any entitlements or services not already afforded to homeless veterans.

The VA has specialized homeless programs such as healthcare, job training, and transitional housing. There are also resources available to veterans for mental health and substance abuse. There are also many private organizations dedicated to getting our veterans off the streets.

Don’t get me wrong, the system is not perfect and more resources are needed, but since 2005 the number of homeless veterans has dropped by 70%.

The Syrian refugees need help too.

Most of the refugees fled Syria because their cities and villages were being bombed—destroying homes, schools, markets and infrastructure. It would be a death-sentence to stay there. Over two million refugees have been welcomed into Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The refugee population is growing beyond what Syria’s neighbors can handle and the people are desperately looking for a place to resettle and be safe. We should be welcoming them and not demonizing them.

The political rhetoric and fear-mongering being perpetrated by our government officials (not to mention hateful posts on social media) is appalling. I am all for spirited, respectful discussion of the issues. I respect those who may disagree with every point I’ve made here.

At the end of the day, the fact remains that the refugees are coming whether we like it or not. Let’s not add to their suffering by fearing, hating or discriminating against them. They are human beings and they are suffering. I hope that the Americans they meet are kind, helpful, compassionate, and understanding.


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