Project Refuge: Part Four
In 1939, the United States turned away more than 900 Jews fleeing Hitler’s Germany because of a false fear that some might be Nazi conspirators or Communists. More than a quarter of those refugees later died in the Holocaust as a result. If I am certain about anything, it is this: history must not repeat itself, but it absolutely could.
This is my last installation in my writing series “Project Refuge.” This series took a lot of work, and taught me so much about something that I am passionate about. This installation follows absolutely no pattern, but has two, simple functions: to convey critical information on the refugee crisis, and to provoke thought and action in the reader. So here goes.
An estimated 470,000 Syrians have died or been injured in the past four years during the Syrian Civil War. That incredible number is over 11.5% of the total Syrian population (Syrian Center for Policy Research). To put this in perspective, 11.5% of America’s population is roughly 35.6 million people, which is about the populations of California and Iowa combined. Can you imagine the loss of two entire states due to disrupt and terror? Although my focus has not been war or the country of origin of immigrants, both weigh heavily in the decision for a refugee to flee. If the United States does not assist in resettlement, how many lives will be negatively impacted?
According to Pew Research Center, Syrians account for 17% of the total number of displaced peoples worldwide. Of that 17% (470,000 people), the US has accepted nearly 12,000 Syrian immigrants since the beginning of the Syrian civil war five years ago (New York Times). If every Syrian Refugee resettled to the US during that time attended a Bengals football game in Cincinnati, they would fill up just 1/5th of the stadium. Don’t get me wrong: what we are doing is great. The United States has radically changed the course of 12,000 Syrian lives by welcoming them into the country. It is not a question, however, that we can do more.
What Can We Do?
In Canada, churches and private organizations can sponsor resettlement for refugees who qualify through Canada’s governmental screening process. Unlike the US, which gives loans to resettled refugees, this program requires each private sponsor group to pay for the full cost of each refugee, and those resettled are not required to pay them back. Although Canada’s government does sponsor thousands of refugees per year (they have admitted over 39,000 just this month), private citizens and local organizations can pick up the $27,000 tab to sponsor a resettlement (Huffington Post). Canada’s Refugee Sponsorship Program is not perfect, but it does provide community members, churches and organizations the opportunity to be proactive in reaching out to the desperate, hurt, and lost. If anything, this should give American’s something to think about as we begin to define our role in this crisis and, as a nation, set the tone for many other nations to follow.
The process of becoming a refugee in any part of the world is not an easy handout. As I have previously discussed, the process can be grueling and terrifying, and status is difficult to attain. Even more difficult is resettlement, especially resettlement to the United States. Most European countries are pressured into allowing immigrants to resettle because they enter the country and then apply for Asylum. The US, being farther removed from much of the crisis that causes people to flee, can be much more selective in who we legally admit. We do not have floods of people from war torn countries entering into our country. We have floods of people from war torn countries applying to enter, and then waiting 2-3 years for an answer. The United States has a very thorough, very specific vetting system to allow only safe, trustworthy immigrants into our country.
Contrary to the lies of anti-immigration advocates, America is not admitting more refugees than in the past, and is surely not opening the floodgates to let in every man, woman, and child who wants into the states. In addition, the refugees we have admitted in the past have posed no extraordinary threat to our nation. In fact, there has never been a single instance of fulfilled terrorism committed by a refugee resettled in the United States since 9/11, which many feared would happen. Those who oppose the resettlement of refugees in America are quick to bring up the Tsarnaev brothers, who were responsible for the tragic Boston Marathon bombing in 2014. Although the attack was heartbreaking and placed many in danger, it is important to note that the Tsarnaev brothers entered America through seeking Asylum, which is a completely different process than entering in as a refugee. In this case, education matters when sweeping generalizations can influence the safety of thousands.
The Floodgates Are Not Open
Incredibly, refugees now account for nearly 1/100th of our nation’s size today. Historically, America has mostly only admitted refugees in dire need of refuge. For example, in the past 30 years, the US has only admitted Kosovan refugees once, during the Kosovo war in 1999, and even then only a group just shy of 15,000. The US did not admit a single refugee from Kosovo before that year, and has not admitted one since. All of that to say: The United States is not opening the floodgates for Syrian refugees, or any refugees for that matter. The US, alongside many other nations of the world, is answering the time-sensitive call to allow Syrian refugees into the country. Although possibly not as much as others, the US is admitting refugees coming from places of complete need. Our system is in no way perfect, and can actually delay resettlement for many because of the vigorous screening and vetting process. However, the United States is selective and has an incredible amount of control when it comes to who enters and does not enter our country legally.
My final words come as a reminder and a warning: people are difficult to love. Not just people whom you disagree with, but even the people you want to help can be difficult to love. Love is a complex constellation that very rarely aligns when we need it to. To love is to push beyond comfort, beyond safety, and beyond what you know and into unknown territory. To love is to listen. To love is to challenge. To love is to look into the eyes of someone you don’t understand, don’t agree with, and don’t want to agree with. To love is not to force affection, but to encounter dissonance as a compliment, and not as a conflict.
My challenge to myself moving forward is this: speak more with people who do not look or sound like me. Listen to people who feel like they are not always heard. Look for people who think they are not seen. If everything I do is not impacting people, then what am I doing it for? The world is not a place of fear, but a place convinced that there is much to fear. The world is not a dark place but a place convinced that there is not enough light. The most important thing you can do is educate yourself, teach yourself to move past privilege and deep-seated fear, and begin moving forward in the faith that, as history has proven again and again, people are people, and we all just want a safe place to call home.