I’m alarmed by how quickly the tragedy of Paris has morphed into calls to halt the resettlement of Syrian refugees.
This September, as millions of asylum seekers poured out of Syria on foot and by boat, a few Peace Center members shared with me their desire to lend support to Syrian families that they expected would soon arrive in the Richmond region. They assumed, reasonably, that Central Virginia would absorb its share of asylum seekers. This is after all the worst refugee crisis the world has witnessed since the end of the Second World War. And we bear added responsibility in that our own foreign policies and military actions have contributed to the destabilization of Iraq and Syria.
In fact, there will be no large influx of Syrian refugees arriving to our region this year.
That’s in part because the United States has at this point agreed to accept a shamefully small number of the refugees. We have taken in only about 1,500 Syrian refugees since the start of the conflict there, according to the New York Times, and the Obama administration has proposed to accept “at least 10,000” in the future. By comparison, Germany has absorbed nearly 1 million people this year alone, and the majority of refugees remain encamped in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Another reason we’ll see no influx this winter is that every refugee settled in the U.S. undergoes an intensive and prolonged security screening and is carefully vetted by multiple agencies…in an effort to ensure that any refugee resettled poses no security threat. The process takes at least a year to a year and a half.
Yesterday the House of Representatives passed the American Safe Act, a bill that would bring the current resettlement of Syrian refugees, which is already too-modest an initiative moving at too-slow a pace, to a full halt.
The U.S. House members who supported this bill, and the half of US governors who have said they’ll ban Syrian refugees from their states, stand on the wrong side of history. I hope they consider the thoughtful and principled views of their colleague, the Governor of my home state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee, who was interviewed on NPR:
“I think that our nation is tested from time to time. And I think this is one of those times to really dig deep and see what kind of character our nation and my state has. And I’ve always believed in my state, and the country has always been a place of refuge from those who are persecuted. … We are a nation that has always taken the path of enforcing our freedom, our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our humanity, our relationship with the rest of the world. And we’ve hewed to those values, even in troubled times. And when we haven’t, we’ve regretted it. I’ll give you an example. I live on Bainbridge Island, this little island just west of Seattle. And it was the first place where we succumbed to fear in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. And we locked up Washington and American citizens, and we sent them to camps – Japanese-Americans. … We regret that. We regret that we succumbed to fear. We regret that we lost moorage for who we were as a country. We shouldn’t do that right now.”
I believe that many in the Richmond region, like the Peace Center friends who remain eager to assist refugees who eventually arrive, will welcome families who have endured so much war and who seek a safe harbor in the United States of America…the “nation of immigrants.”