Posted by Rawan Elbaba on November 20, 2015 in Blog

CURE7sAXIAAgSH9.jpgIn the wake of last week’s terror attacks in Paris, refugees have received increased backlash across Europe and the United States. More than two dozen Republican governors and one Democratic governor, including presidential candidates, have announced that they will not be resettling Syrian refugees in their states. Their announcements have limited direct impact, however, since there is no lawful means to refuse legally accepted foreign refugees. It’s ridiculous and baffling that refugees are being blamed for attacks carried out by the same people they were were escaping from in the first place. Governors have repeatedly said that accepting more refugees, specifically Syrian refugees, means putting their constituents at a higher risk for a terror attack. In contrast, President Obama and a handful of political leaders voiced their support for refugees. Those welcoming refugees argue that the United States can both protect its citizens while simultaneously providing refuge to the world’s most vulnerable people.  

Presidential candidates and governors alike have also expressed the xenophobic and bigoted anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiments when suggesting the United States should prioritize Christian refugees over Muslim refugees. At the G20 Summit in Turkey, President Obama called this exclusion of Muslim refugees “shameful” as the United States has no “religious tests for…compassion.” The President was firm in suggesting we not “close our hearts to these victims of violence, or start equating the issue of refugees with terrorism.” It’s unacceptable that people are associating refugees with violence because the truth of the matter is, the people escaping their homes with only the clothes on their backs are the people most harmed by terrorism. The families struggling to survive the trek to safety are the ones fleeing persecution by the same groups attacking Beirut and Paris. They are escaping the same groups who claim to be Muslim but have slaughtered more Muslims than any other religious group to date.

With that in mind, its imperative we keep our doors open and our arms wide in acceptance. To continue the American tradition of hospitality and openness, the White House deemed this past weekend “Welcome Week,” an effort to welcome “those fleeing persecution and seeking refuge from around the world.” So far, the United States has provided the largest amount of financial humanitarian assistance (about $4.5 billion) to refugees around the world. Also, President Obama has vowed to admit 100,000 refugees within the next two years. The Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, Amy Pope, released a statement reaffirming the White House’s ongoing support for resettling Syrian refugees. Ms. Pope and the President have both stressed that “we cannot turn our backs on those most threated by the terrorist group.” The statement also emphasized the stringent screening process all refugees must go through before being admitted into the country. Pope also noted that in the wake of the crisis in Syria, Syrian refugees in particular go through additional security checks before being resettled. The resettlement process in it’s entirety can take up to two years and involved the State Department, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Depart of Defense. Although this effort by the Administration is crucial in creating a welcoming environment for refugees and protecting the American people, it doesn’t stop here.

Part of Welcome Week is learning how to get involved in helping those seeking refuge in the United States. The Interfaith Immigration Coalition has invaluable resources to support refugees and notes three ways to act quickly. First, call your legislators and sign advocacy letters to let your representatives know that you want more refugees to be admitted and that they require domestic assistance. Second, plan a meal with local refugees during the holidays—and even invite your local representative. Third, spread the word that you welcome refugees by regularly posting on social media using #RefugeesWelcome.  

Rawan Elbaba is an intern with the Arab American Institute

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