Debate on Allowing Syrian Refugees Into the United States by I.C.

In September 2015, the body of Aylan Kurdi, 3, washed up on a Turkish beach. A photographer snapped a picture that would change everything. It is the image of the lifeless body of the little boy, dressed in a red t-shirt and blue shorts, lying with his pudgy cheek pressed softly against the sand as if he were sleeping.  This single image has galvanized the Syrian crisis throughout the globe and moved millions to lend a hand to the refugees.

Aylan and his family were Syrian refugees seeking a new life in Canada. The smugglers they hired promised Aylan’s father a trip overseas on a motor boat. Instead, the smugglers came with a 15 foot, rubber raft. During the journey, the raft flipped in high waves throwing Aylan and his family into the frigid water. Aylan’s father was the only survivor (Park, Haeyoun). Tragic stories such as Aylan’s are common among the 12 million people driven by desperation and violence to leave their Syrian homeland.  All of them leave wondering where their next home will be.

In 2011, the violent Syrian Civil War began displacing millions of Syrians, leaving them no place to turn. Since then, the war has displaced approximately 4.2 million Syrians (World Vision). This diaspora threatens to become the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The United States has done its part to help the Syrian refugees.  Since 2011, the United States has provided asylum to only approximately 0.0005 percent or 2,290 of all Syrian refugees (Bremmer, Ian).

Under pressure from European countries, President Obama recently raised the number of Syrians who may be granted asylum from 2,000 to 10,000 this fiscal year (Park, Hayoun). Syrians accounted for only two percent of the 70,000 refugees admitted in the U.S this last fiscal year (Park, Haeyoun). However, these numbers pale in comparison to the numbers admitted by other countries. As an example, since 2012, Germany has admitted 92,991 refugees (Park, Haeyoun).

Obama’s attempts to aid the refugees have been diminished by concerns of national security The terrorist attacks on Paris have added the more to the already-intense, global debate.  The attacks occurred on the evening of November 13, 2015, terrorists carried out a series of violent attacks killing 130 people in the streets of Paris, France ( “Paris Terror Attacks”).  French authorities later determined the attacks were executed by Syrian refugees.

In the wake of the attack, the French government has, nonetheless, kept its promise to allow 30,000 refugees legal status in the next two years (Tharoor, Ishaan).  The French President, Francois Hollande, says it is France’s “humanitarian duty” to honor its commitment to the refugees (Tharoor, Ishaan).

The additional refugees that will be granted asylum in the United States will come from 18,000 referrals sent by the United Nations. According to State department officials, more than half of these 18,000 refugees are injured children (Park Haeyoun) who have missed years of schooling and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality (World Vision). Some also faced forceful recruitment by warring parties to serve as fighters or human shields (World Vision). Some United States Presidential candidates voiced their opinions prior to the Paris attacks  about the risks of granting Syrians asylum in the U.S.  Rather, than prompting the candidates to support acceptance of more Syrian refugees, the attacks accomplished the opposite:  the candidates became even more leery of Syrian refugees.  All the  Republican candidates oppose Obama’s plan to increase the number of Syrians granted asylum in the U.S.( Kaplan, Thomas).  In particular, candidate Donald Trump took a strong and angry stance stating, “If Obama, through his weakness, lets them come in, I’m sending them out if I win”( Kaplan, Thomas).

The Democratic candidates have expressed the opposite perspective and fully support Obama’s proposal. Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, claims she would grant even more refugees legal status. “I said we should go to 65” — meaning 65,000 refugees — “but only if we have as careful a screening and vetting process as we can imagine”, she said on November 12, 2015 (Kaplan, Thomas).

In addition, more than half of the nation’s governors have spoken out against allowing refugees into their states (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield). All but one are Republican governors. For most, the concern is one of national security after the attacks on Paris. Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, vociferously rejected Obama’s plan saying, “As your governor, I will not stand complicit to a policy that places the citizens of Alabama in harm’s way” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).

However, the final decision is not in the hands of the individual states.  Professor Stephen I. Vladeck of American University said,  “Legally, states have no authority to do anything because the question of who should be allowed in this country is one that the Constitution commits to the federal government” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).  Although, he says, the cooperation from the states is necessary to complete the task. “So a state can’t say it is legally objecting, but it can refuse to cooperate, which makes things much more difficult.” (Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield).

President Obama however, does not intend to give up the fight for the refugees. “We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic,” Obama said. “We don’t make good decisions if it’s based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks.”(Liptak, Kevin, and Jim Acosta).  Nonetheless, the future of the refugees is still unclear.

 

Works Cited

Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield. “Syrian Refugees Not Welcome in 31 U.S. States – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, 19 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Park, Haeyoun. “Paris Attacks Intensify Debate Over How Many Syrian Refugees to Allow Into the U.S.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 20 Oct. 2015. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

“What You Need to Know: Crisis in Syria, Refugees, and the Impact on Children.” World Vision. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Jan. 2016.

Fantz, Ashley, and Ben Brumfield. “Syrian Refugees Not Welcome in 31 U.S. States – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Kaplan, Thomas, and Wilson Andrews. “Presidential Candidates on Allowing Syrian Refugees in the United States.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Nov. 2015. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

“Paris Terror Attacks – CNN.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Liptak, Kevin, and Jim Acosta. “Barack Obama Slams GOP over Refugee Stance – CNNPolitics.com.” CNN. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2016.

Let Them In or Send Them Home? by H.C.

War and the widespread growth of terrorism in Syria have been devastating to families who say they just want to live in peace.  The constant fear of death has forced over four million of them to leave their homes to take on long and dangerous journeys to other countries where they seek asylum.  Some unfortunately die during their escape, including by attempting dangerous crossing by sea in homemade boats, by unsuccessfully trying to board and stay on moving trains, or by the terrible conditions they face in temporary detention camps.  

Many counties are struggling to deal with the sheer number of migrants attempting to cross their borders.  Some of them are welcoming them, while others are turning them away or limiting the number who will gain entry.  All of these countries are faced with answering the same questions both internally to their citizens and externally to the rest of the world: should they take refugees or send them home, how do they determine whether a person seeking asylum is qualified to enter, and how many can they take without causing a burden on their own welfare systems and/or causing internal conflict.  If they decide to allow migration and determine the number, they must specifically determine how to screen them, house and feed them, and often they must make these difficult decisions while thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of refugees are waiting at their borders.    

In the article “Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” (Solsvik and Fouche for Reuters, Oct 15, 2015), the authors report that according to the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration, 1,200 people have attempted to seek asylum in Norway from Syria in 2015, which is a huge increase over the dozen or so who asked for asylum in 2014.  The article states “the journey is a more roundabout, but legal, and safer, way to enter Europe than by crossing the Mediterranean”.  

 

According to Reuters, many of the asylum seekers are in fact not at risk of being killed if they return to their home countries because, in fact, they are coming from Russia where they have lived for a long time and have the freedom to return.  The article states that Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the anti-immigration party, told public broadcaster NRK “they have had a safe place to be in Russia. We have had a return agreement with Russia and we should use it,”

The article, “Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” (Bershidsky, Sept 4, 2015) discusses the reasons behind the apparent unwillingness of Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf countries, to accept Syrian refugees.  Regarding Saudi Arabia, the article states that while the country has in fact welcomed almost 500,000 Syrians to live in the country, there is no record that they are refugees.  Instead they could have migrated legally prior to the conflict in Syria.  Also, 500,000, while appearing to be a large number, is small compared with the total population of Saudi Arabia’s thirty-one million residents.  This number is also very low in comparison to Lebanon, which has allowed more than 1.3 million refugees into their borders, representing over a quarter of their population.  The article also addresses the fact that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also resisted allowing Syrian refugees to enter their country.  Instead they “prefer to pay to equip and maintain refugee camps in other countries, close to Syrian borders.”

Bershidsky explains that the reason for the actions of Saudia Arabia and the UAE are that a majority of the Syrians seeking asylum are Sunni Muslims. While the Saudi population is also predominantly Sunni, “many Sunni areas of Syria have served as a base for the Islamic State, which the Saudi and U.A.E. air forces are helping to bomb. The Islamic State is hostile to the Saudi regime, and it’s important to them whether the refugees are fleeing Islamic State or the bombings.”  In other words, they want to make sure that they are not welcoming their enemy into their borders.  Egypt has also been concerned that Syrians entering their country have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which is their enemy.  As such, Egypt has limited entry to Syrians as well as deported some of them.

 

The article also discusses that in Lebanon and Turkey where Syrian refugees have been granted asylum, there have been conflicts, resentment, fear and the potential for violence among various other religious groups and the Syrians.  In some cases, Syrian refugees have been relocated to other parts of the country to avoid conflict.

After explaining the difficulties with relocating Syrians in the Gulf countries, the author argues that it makes more sense for the refugees to be welcomed into European countries as well as the United States where they would make up a very small percentage of the existing population.  The author then unbelievably states, “jihadists posing as migrants might, of course, conduct terrorist attacks, but that risk exists without refugees.”  Finally, Bershidsky claims that the humanitarian policies of the West, as well as a more even distribution of wealth, have a “calming effect” on immigration as compared with asking refugees to live in countries where “their presence could turn an unsteady equilibrium into chaos”. He concludes his article by stating that the United States and Europe should not use the Gulf state’s resistance to allowing Syrian migration as an excuse to also limit the number of refugees these countries take.  

In “Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” (Editorial Board of the New York Times, Sept 3, 2015), the author discusses Australia’s policies toward asylum seekers, which include sending the navy to intercept boats filled with refugees and making them turn back to wherever they sailed from.  The article states that those who are not turned away from the borders are kept in poorly maintained detention centers run by private contractor on nearby islands. An “Australian Senate committee portrayed the Nauru center as a purgatory where children are sexually abused, guards give detainees marijuana in exchange for sex and some asylum seekers are so desperate that they stitch their lips shut in an act of protest.” The Editorial Staff asserts that instead of fixing the detention center problems, they have tried to hide the problems, including by threatening criminal prosecution for speaking publicly about the conditions.

 

The editorial concludes by stating that refugees will naturally seek to rebuild their lives in countries that are prosperous and “it is inexcusable that some find themselves today in situations that are more hopeless and degrading than the ones that prompted them to flee.”

These articles may be compared and contrasted in many ways. For example, all of the articles point out the complexity of the refugee problem and, in particular, the incredibly difficult decisions the governments need to make in deciding how to handle requests for asylum from so many people that are showing up at their borders. While the article, “Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” is very factual about the situation that exists in Norway without making any opinions or recommendations, both the articles, “Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” and the “Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” seek to make a point about how other countries need to do more or just do better.  The Norway article and the Australia article are also similar in that they both discuss their country’s decision to turn away refugees, although for different reasons.

In my opinion, while it is the responsibility of a civilized society to provide help and assistance to our fellow man when they are in need, especially when fleeing a country where there is a strong possibility of death, countries have the right to limit the number of immigrants they allow into their borders for a number of reasons, including national security, social and logistical reasons.  Additionally, only those refugees who are truly at risk of death in their own country should be allowed to enter a country and be given food, shelter, medicine and other services and countries should take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that the process of determining who deserves to enter the country are followed, even if it means taking time to evaluate each person and situation.  

 

 

Works Cited

“Norway seeking to return some Syrian asylum seekers to Russia” (Solsvik and Fouche for Reuters, Oct 15, 2015)

“Why Don’t Gulf States Accept More Refugees?” (Bershidsky, Sept 4, 2015)

“Australia’s Brutal Treatment of Migrants” (Editorial Board of the New York Times, Sept 3, 2015)