Where is The Compassion?

A Syrian child refugee cries during the fourth day of school at Al Zaatri refugee camp

A Syrian child refugee cries during the fourth day of school at Al Zaatri refugee camp.

In the wake of recent tragedies in Paris as well as the far less reported attacks in Beirut and Kenya, I felt the need to express my thoughts on the matter. I’ve been waiting and contemplating for several days now to determine what it is exactly that I really want to say. I suppose I’m still a bit confused because of my conflicting emotions.

You see, I understand the fear. I understand the anger. I understand the desire for hard-hitting retaliation against those who committed the recent atrocities. I understand the need to find blame with someone. I understand because I’m feeling all of these things. But I refuse to allow these feelings to guide my thinking or actions. Time has proven that ideas or beliefs rooted in raw emotion are never sound and decisions based upon those ideas lead to mistakes.

I’ve tried to think critically about all that has transpired and take a more reasoned approach to my analysis. In doing so, I am facing new emotions as I keep running into rampant demagoguery, xenophobia and fear mongering, mostly relating to Muslims in general and specifically towards the refugees from Syria that are waiting to come into the US.  It seems to be everywhere – comments from Presidential candidates, political leaders and social media.

In regard to the Syrian refugees, Donald Trump has said:

“We have no idea who these people are, we are the worst when it comes to paperwork. This could be one of the great Trojan horses.”

He further went on to say:

“Our President wants to take in 250,000 from Syria. Think of it, 250,000 people. And we all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all of that, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people — some of whom are going to have problems, big problems — is just insane.”

The second quote is blatantly false and has been reported to be false by numerous news agencies and fact checkers.

More than half of the state governors have declared they will not allow Syrian refugees into their states. Showing even more lack of sympathy, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said recently that he would make no exceptions for any refugee, even orphans under five years of age.

Children in refugee camp

Children in refugee camp

Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites are littered with uninformed comments and memes. Some have emphatically announced that if the US allows Syrian refugees to enter the country (over 1800 already have in the past two years) that they will move to Canada. Apparently no one told these folks that Canada has pledged to take in over 25,000 refugees.

Where is the compassion3

I saw this meme today:

Where is the compassion

At first glance, it might not seem unreasonable to suggest priorities, but I find it interesting that certain humanitarian causes are only remembered whenever there is another cause that appears unpopular. It’s funny how the homeless problem in the US or the less than adequate treatment of veterans suddenly becomes important to the same people that never gave a shit about either problem until it was convenient to stand behind them in order to deny help to “foreigners”.

Why must we choose between doing the right thing for one group and doing the right thing for another group? The US has the ability to care for its homeless and veterans and still assimilate foreign refugees. It requires only the conviction to do so and the action of our legislators, governors and President.

The strong reluctance to aid those fleeing a hostile, extremist regime is fueled by the fear that a very small number of refugees might be members of ISIS. Despite the hyperbole and misinformation that has spread wildly, this threat is minimal.

Much of the confusion over the security threat posed by refugees is over the term “refugee” itself.  It’s not yet clear how any foreign attackers in Paris entered Europe, but one or more may have entered disguised as asylum-seekers.

In the United States, asylum seekers show up at U.S. borders and ask to stay must show they have a well-founded fear of persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or their political opinion if they return to their country of origin.  There is an application and investigation process, and the government often detains the asylum-seeker during that process. But the investigation and vetting of the asylum seeker often take place while he is allowed inside of the United States.  Many of the Syrians and others who have entered Europe are asylum seekers who are vetted through similar less stringent security screens.

Refugees are processed from a great distance away and are more thoroughly vetted than asylum-seekers as a result.  In the United States, a refugee is somebody who is identified by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a refugee camp.  UNHCR does the first round of security checks on the refugee according to international treaties that the United States is a party to and refers some of those who pass the initial checks to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP).  The referrals are then interviewed by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer abroad.  The refugee must be outside of the United States, be of special humanitarian concern to the government, demonstrate persecution or fear of persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, not firmly resettled in another country, and is admissible to the United States.

Because the refugee is abroad while the U.S. government checks their background, potential terrorist links, and their claims to refugee status, the vetting is a lot more thorough and can take up to two years for non-Syrians.  For Syrians, the vetting can take about three years because of the heightened concerns over security.

– Alex Nowrasteh, Cato Institute

While there is always a concern about security, this has not deterred other countries, including France from taking in those that seek asylum.

Terrorism is defined as:

The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

By turning away the thousands of innocents that are in desperate need of help, we are in fact, becoming the kind of aloof, uncaring people that radical Islam wants the world to think we are and in doing so, we give credence to the message that extremist propagandists seek through horrible acts of violence. The NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) mentality (see the George Carlin video below) appears to be what ISIS is aiming for, according to this report from Australian journalist Waleed Aly.

I’m not suggesting that extreme caution should not be taken in the vetting and assimilation process where any refugees are concerned, nor am I ruling out the need for police and military action to combat the ISIS threat through a global coalition. But to fail to act with mercy because of a disproportionate level of fear is unacceptable for all humans, regardless of nationality. We are better than that.  And what better way to combat an extremist ideology than by showing kindness to those in need?

Finally, I finish with the brutal honesty of George Carlin. This is an older video and it doesn’t specifically address refugees, but the concept of NIMBY still applies.


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