America and Refugees

Conversation about refugees flared in America at the end of 2015 in response to the Paris Attacks, the mass shooting in San Bernardino, and the House of Representatives passing a bill suspending Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the U.S.. Presidential candidates Clinton, O’Malley, and Sanders say America should accept Syrian refugees (Clinton and O’Malley cap it at 65,000 people), Bush and Cruz would accept Christian refugees, and the rest of the GOP candidates do not agree with accepting Syrian refugees. The candidate’s positions have also added to the conversation surrounding how America should consider Syrian refugees.

It’s understandable that many Americans are disconcerted about accepting refugees with ISIL’s threat seeming far-reaching. But the fear-mongering tactics of many politicians and lobbyists isn’t helping the uneasiness. I attended a talk at my school by Barak Mendelsohn, a professor at Haverford College and an expert on terrorism, counter-terrorism, al-Qaeda, and radical Islamic movements. As audience members asked questions, some expressed their apprehension about the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees. Mendelsohn calmly reminded the audience the truth about most refugees,  “They are simply trying to survive.” It is this truth that I think many Americans forget when addressing accepting refugees. These refugees are coming from a place of war, terror, and deprivation. Most are coming to the U.S. seeking safety, solitude, and peace.

While this has become a recent hotbed issue in the U.S., it has been an extensive debate across Europe for several years. I remember my German exchange student, Greta, who came to stay with my family in April 2015, talking about the conversation of refugees in Germany. The Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, was recently crowned TIME’s person of the year for 2015. She was chosen for her strength in European and international politics. She was also commended for accepting refugees into Germany, despite leaving her party lines. Many of her critics have argued that her decision on refugees will ruin Germany. But, I disagree. I see Merkel as a courageous politician that for once put human need over party ideals. Merkel said (as seen in the TIME article), “If we now have to start apologizing for showing a friendly face in response to emergency situations, then that’s not my country.” Unfortunately, we have not seen this same humanity in current American politics.

It saddens me to think that partisan lines have disabled politicians from being courageous and truthful – especially when it comes to issues like refugees, when people’s lives are at stake. I do not believe that America not accepting refugees is the solution. We have seen from the San Bernardino attack that violence can come from our own citizens. While the San Bernardino attack is as much a gun issue as it is anything, it still proves that keeping refugee families from the U.S. is not hurting. If anything, I think the U.S. allowing refugees only makes us stronger. We will prove to the international community a compassionate nature that I think we have lost along the years. We also will be diversifying our culture with adding new, smart, and intelligent members to our community.

It may sound like I want America to just be a free for all for all people around the world, but I support rigorous background checks. I want to ensure the safety of American citizens just as much as anyone else. But talk of ensuring safety and strict background checks often redirects conversation of refugees to a negative light. I encourage you all to read this seven part story on Humans of New York about a man from Syria, who was waiting for news of going to America as a refugee in Turkey. His story reflects what I think is true for many refugees; they just want to continue with their livelihood in a safe place.

If these ideas are not enough to convince you of accepting refugees, I think it is important to remember that Jesus Christ was a refugee. I was reminded of this detail at a recent church service.  As a young boy, he fled with his family to seek safety in Egypt. He too was a Middle Eastern refugee. As the preacher reminded me of this historical detail, I was disheartened thinking about Jesus in our world climate today. Jesus and his family were seeking to continue living their lives in a safe environment, just as refugees are today.

While the current international climate and ISIL’s power are scary, it should not stop America from being safe refuge for people facing life-threatening terror. What this really comes down to is American politicians moving past party lines to see the humanity in accepting refugees. It is time for our politicians to be courageous in the face of emergency and terror. We should not feed into the terror rhetoric coming from the Middle East by not accepting refugees. Let’s make America a place of compassion and hope for people in a hopeless place.

Image: #ChildrenofSyria website

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