Paris attacks should strengthen US resolve to accept more refugees

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The tragic violence perpetrated against civilians in Paris on Friday, Nov. 13 was part of an organized Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) campaign to attack civilian locations around the world over the last few weeks, which also included attacks in Lebanon and Egypt. While the killing had mostly been localized in parts of Iraq and Syria, more recent ISIS attacks have revealed its emerging “strategy shift,” which now includes callously executing senseless acts of terror against civilians not only in the Middle East, but in Europe and beyond. While ISIS’s strategy shift should stiffen U.S. and its partner countries’ resolve to meet ISIS head on, it should not signal American abandonment of those most directly affected by ISIS attacks and violence: Syrians.

{mosads}Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011, World Vision estimates that there have been approximately 12 million Syrians displaced from their homes, half of whom are children. About 4 million have fled Syria and are currently seeking asylum in Europe, the Middle East and other regions.

Despite horrific photos of drowned children floating onto Greek and Turkish shores, the plight of refugees from Syria undertaking treacherous journeys through Europe to escape violence and warfare has only served to temporarily refocus American attention on the suffering of civilians. Initial calls for further U.S. action to protect refugees in September 2015 were met with tepid responses by the U.S. government. Under rising public pressure, the Obama administration pledged to increase its quota of Syrian refugees to 10,000 beginning in 2015. After four years of conflict in Syria, and with death tolls reaching upwards of 200,000, the U.S. government thus far has only accepted a meager 2,200 Syrian refugees into the United States. Given the massive number of refugees, and the ability of the U.S. to easily absorb more refugees, human rights groups, such as Human Rights First, have called for a much greater quota number — 100,000 Syrians.

The Paris attacks have galvanized many Republicans (and one Democrat) in the House of Representatives to scapegoat all Syrians, particularly Syrian Muslims, as potential threats to U.S. national security. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), led the call, championed by many Republican governors and members of Congress, for the U.S. to halt efforts to accept Syrian refugees due to the potential security threats they may pose. The reality is that Syrians of all faiths are fleeing ISIS. The brand of Islamic extremism advocated by ISIS has been rejected and deplored by legitimate Muslim leaders and populations around the world. Additionally, while no verifiable evidence exists that a single ISIS member has been able to use Syrian refugee status as a means of entering any country to perpetrate terrorism, Republicans have passed a bill to limit all refugees from the Middle East and North Africa from resettling in the United States, particularly those from countries with active jihadist movements. This legislation blocking U.S. acceptance of Syrian refugees goes against the principles enshrined in the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocols, signed and ratified by the U.S., which ensure protection for those fleeing conflict and violent persecution.

The Syrian civil war, and ISIS territorial expansion, has sparked the largest exodus of people fleeing conflict since World War II, and has resulted in one of the most severe humanitarian crises of our time. Indeed, as many experts have noted, U.S. public opinion has regularly displayed opposition to “doing the right thing” when faced with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S., including Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in the 1930s. During World War II, concern about relations with Germany and a weak national economy caused the U.S. to limit the number of German refugees to 20,000, even though applications numbered over 300,000. We were on the wrong side of history then, and many American conservatives are on that same side now.

The Obama administration should be applauded for dispelling the Islamophobic and myopic rhetoric of several Republican members of Congress. On Nov. 17, President Obama explained that the security screening procedures in place for Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States are among the most rigorous in the world. The lengthy and painstaking American review process for asylees seeking refugee status in the United States normally takes 18 to 24 months to complete and would not be an efficient or probable method of entry to North America. Obama also charged back at Republicans, stating that they seemed to be “afraid of widows and orphans,” who make up the majority of those Syrian refugees seeking asylum. Indeed, it is unlikely that members of Congress will be able to block Obama’s efforts to accept Syrian refugees; however, state-level Republicans and governors who oppose it can significantly reduce funding budgets allotted for resettling refugees in their states.

The Obama administration should hold its ground on this issue and continue to lambast the uninformed Islamophobia that has galvanized several Republican members of Congress around opposition to accepting Syrian refugees. But more should be done to solidify the Obama administration’s resolve. Doing our part to accept and resettle more Syrian refugees — 100,000 — to demonstrate American opposition to ISIS, human rights violations, global injustice and the shameful Islamophobia that characterizes the sentiment of a growing number of House members, is of vital importance. Let’s be on the right side of history for a change.

This piece has been updated.

Barqueiro is an assistant professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Baltimore, where Towey is a graduate research assistant.

Tags France ISIS Islamic State in Iraq and Syria Paris Paris attacks Paul Ryan Syria Syrian refugees

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