Between Obama calling for increased admittance of refugees into the country and the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, there has been a lot of worry about what Syrian refugees are, what they stand for, and really what they want.
On Facebook I’ve seen a lot of concern over the safety of these decisions, and rightly so. Allowing 10,000 strangers into our country that are from a war-torn land filled with terrorists is something we should carefully consider. And, on top of that, not many people are refugee resettlement experts, nor do most people have a lot of time to scour the internet for sources. Three days ago I didn’t know what refugee resettlement really looked like, nor the exact number of Syrians already placed in the United States. I have a lot of questions. So does everyone else. So here are the most common questions I’ve seen with the answers I’ve found online.
- Who are these people anyway?
Syria has been ruled by a dictatorship for many years under the Assad family. Long story short, in 2011 during the Arab Spring, a village rioted against Assad’s military police and secret service guys after the torture and death of several teenage boys. The boys’ crime was writing popular rebel slogans from other Arab countries. From, there, it turned into regular people–doctors, bankers, farmers, teachers, women–fighting against the Assad regime, trying to bring a better government to their people.
Because it was completely grassroots, there was no main rebel force. It was any group of people that had enough guns to go around. Since 2011, there has been infighting among rebel groups as well as the continued fight against Assad. ISIS entered the Syrian picture around December 2013 and is fighting rebel groups and Assad. So basically it’s a big free-for-all and Syria is Hell on earth right now.
Civilians, mostly women and children, began pouring from Syria in all direction in 2012. Many fled to Iraq, which ISIS also has strongholds in. Others fled to Lebanon, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Now they are spreading across the Mediterranean and hoping to reach Greece.
In 2010, Syria had a population of 20.5 million. Twelve million Syrians have left their homes, and over four million of these are refugees (people with nowhere to go). Over half of these four million are children under the age of 18.
- Are they those radical Islamists?
Syria’s population is roughly 88-90% Muslim and 8-10% Christian. The rest are Jews or other minority religions. Most of the Syrian population is Sunni, but there are some Shiite. Sunni is the predominant faction of Islam throughout the world. If the refugees were radical Muslims, they would welcome ISIS into their land as a new caliphate. But the fact that they are fleeing means they want nothing to do with ISIS and will leave their homes to get away.
- Why can’t someone else help them?
Lebanon, a population of roughly 5 million, has 1.5 million Syrian refugees in their country. Turkey hosts over 2 million currently, and Jordan has over 600,000. The most well-known refugee camp, Zaatari, is in Jordan. It also hosts refugees from other conflicts, like the Palestinians. Egypt helps almost 130,000. The map below is outdated in terms of numbers, but it’s a good map.
Now refugees are crossing the Mediterranean in sailboats, lifeboats, in anything that floats, if they are rich enough to pay the smuggling fee. From, there, there are detention centers and processing centers in Greece, Serbia, Hungary, France, Germany, and others that they reside in.
Basically, that’s a lot of displaced people. And their next door neighbors have very full houses. If Europe wants the refugees to survive, they have to take a few. And Germany (and France) have been doing a pretty good job of it. But other countries in the EU are growing increasingly inhospitable, even putting up barbed wire fences and threatening concentration camp-like facilities. So if Europe won’t take them, who’s next down the street in the neighborhood? A house with a track record of inviting the less fortunate in? The United States (and Canada, Australia, and the UK to name a few others).
- A lot of people are saying 73% of these refugees are combatant-age men. Isn’t that true?
Well, no. I’ve searched around for the source of that statistic and really can’t find anything. If anyone can find a source, let me know. The closest I’ve found to the source of the rumor is the amount of people making Mediterranean Sea crossings. The UNHCR states that 62% of people crossing the sea are males 18 or older. This data is gathered from Greece, Italy, Malta, and Spain. It takes in all nationalities, like Afghan, Iraqi, Libyan, and others. It is not a figure representing only Syrian refugees. Also, because if the prohibitive costs of smuggling (often 4,00 euros a person from Turkey and a bit less from Egypt), it is common for a family to send the father ahead to pave the way, find a job, and hopefully make enough money to bring his wife and children along with him.
- What about the terrorists? Won’t ISIS sneak in with the refugees?
Well, the bad news is ISIS is reasonably strong (there are plenty of debates over if they’re growing or waning). The good news is, they hate the refugees even more than they hate us. And that’s saying something. Terrorists see refugees as weak, so while they may attack refugees, they almost never pretend to be them. And while what the Tsarnaev brothers did was horrific and hopefully will never be repeated, they weren’t refugees. The process behind their asylum and their government involvement was different than the Syrians’ will be. In short, the chances of a terrorist slipping into our country as a refugee are minimal. Since 9/11 784,000 refugees have entered the country, and three have been arrested on terrorism charges with plans to attack foreign targets. There have been no domestic targets. To put it in perspective, your chance of being hit by lightening is 1 in 164,968. The former chief counsel to a department of Homeland Security states, “No competent terrorist would choose the U.S. refugee process as a preferred strategy for gaining entry into the U.S.”
- But what about the Paris attacker? Wasn’t he ISIS and faked his way in as a refugee? And those five arrested in Honduras?
Yes, he was ISIS. No, he wasn’t a Syrian refugee. All attackers were native born European; most were French or Belgian. The Parisian authorities do not believe he was processed in Greece as a refugee. The passport found by his body was most likely stolen.
The five Syrians arrested in Honduras entered the continent through Brazil, authorities suspect. As of now, no law enforcement has suggested they are members of ISIS. It’s a good thing our security systems not only find people with stolen passports, but also can tell the difference between ISIS and regular people
- I don’t trust the vetting process. What does it even entail?
I think this is the best question we could be asking right now.
It is a difficult procedure, especially because many people don’t have IDs and the stress and upheaval of the situation leads to confusing events. However, there is a long, drawn out, and careful process already in place for this sort of thing.
Because this awesome video exists and is better than something I would write, please watch it. It’s only 3 and a half minutes and explains the vetting process. Seriously, if you only click on one link, let it be this video. So far, just under 2,200 Syrian refugees have entered the country, and over half of them are children. Only two percent are “single men of combat age [18-35].”
All 19 of the al Qaeda hijackers from 9/11 came into the US legally on tourist or business visas. If people want to tighten security, refugee resettlement isn’t the process that needs change. Tourists, student, and business visas are the procedures that need more scrutiny. Some US refugee resettlement officers are surprised at the backlash from the public and Congress alike, leading several to conclude that many people have been unaware of the vetting process, rather than knowledgeable and pointing out well-known holes.
- But what about the problems we have in America? Shouldn’t we take care of our homeless veterans?
Absolutely. We have problems in the US and we should address them, especially our homeless veteran population. After being a problem for many years, it’s something we’ve been tackling in the past four-five years and making great headway on. Almost 50,000 veterans are homeless, but that’s a 33% decrease since 2009. One of the more effective policies has been the Mayors’ Challenge (I do love grassroots collective action!) But believe it or not, we’re actually moving in the right direction (rapidly, too) in a campaign against homelessness for our veterans.
Do we still have a lot of work to do? Oh, yes. But we can help more than one people group at once. Domestic violence has been around much longer than modern veteran homelessness, but no one argues that we should completely “cure” domestic violence before addressing the issue of homeless veterans. Neither group of people has the luxury of waiting until the other problem is “fixed” to get assistance. Veterans will die of exposure this year if we ignore them, and Syrians will starve to death if we ignore them. So we can work on both.
- Why can’t churches and individuals take care of the problem? The government shouldn’t intervene!
This is a worldwide problem that affects everyone, at this point. Every sphere of influence should intervene! The government is the only one with the resources to fight terrorism and watch the flow of people entering/leaving the country. The church is the best candidate for organizing donation pledges, sending care packages, or even mission trips to help at the refugee camps. And individuals are the best choice to pray, to send food, or to welcome a refugee into their new home. Our government is here and has the job of refugee admittance, and no amount of complaining will change it. What we can do is ease the assimilation process, help when help is needed, and make the best of a bad situation.
- Everything you’ve said about how safe the refugees are and how low risk this resettlement process is a total lie and I still don’t want them near my children.
Well, that’s your opinion. And I’m glad you take protecting your family so seriously. But even if you think letting refugees near us is too dangerous, are you still willing to help them? Because they’re dying. They’re bleeding to death, drowning, starving, homeless, and lost. Imagine if your house was bombed and your neighbors were dead. Imagine you had to do everything to get out of harm’s way. Would you want help, even if it was just some cans of food? Or a donation that gave you running water for a week?
I certainly would. I would get on my knees and beg for any help that came so my loved ones would survive and I would kiss the feet of anyone that stopped and gave my siblings food and I would be forever grateful to a person who looked me in the eye and smiled, like I was another human being. So please, consider helping in some way. Don’t lose your compassion.