Writer: Keri Shi is the winner of a Scholastic Silver Key for her writing as well as the Editor of the New Providence High School's Literary Magazine and Photo-Journalism Club. She is a Future Civic Leader who is looking to make change by spreading the message about Syrian Refugees.
In order to best contribute to the aid of the Syrian refugees, it is imperative that we look to our own domestic perspective on the issue. With the culmination of the controversial refugee crisis, the recent Paris/Lebanon terrorist attacks, and the concurrent American presidential nominations, national media has been overflowed with opinions varying from strong pro-refugee hospitality to outright Islamophobia. The only way to gain a clear and comprehensive outlook on the Syria debate- and ultimately the means to effectively aid the refugees- is to educate the public about the true circumstances of our national refugee policies and shed some light on the false claims made by many of our politicians during their nominee campaigns.
First off, American refugee policy starts with international oversight by the UN. All refugees go through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which then decides which countries are most appropriate for each individual case (depending on existing family relations in the area, etc.). If they are recommended for resettlement in the US, each file must then be carefully screened by American federal counterterrorism offices, the Defense and State Departments, and Homeland Security before the refugee even sets foot in the country. The extensive vetting process includes security screening, fingerprinting, and interviewing to decide which refugees are allowed to resettle. In the past two years, the US has accepted around 1,800 Syrian refugees, with President Obama proposing to open the doors to 10,000 more this year. However, the House of Representatives vote to slow refugee intake (for the sake of increased security) shows a clear majority with 47 out of 193 Democrats and all 242 Republicans voting in support of decreasing the admission of Syrian refugees for these following years. While the US has been the largest contributor of funds to the life-saving humanitarian cause in Syria since 2011 (upwards of $5.1 billion, with an additional provision of $601 million in 2016), it seems that American generosity ends once the issue approaches our front door.
From the flurry of rousing liberal and conservative propaganda circulating throughout American media, it is clear that the Syrian refugee crisis is an issue of great controversy in current political debates. Let’s dive right in, starting with one of the most outspoken and inflammatory nominees of the GOP, Donald Trump. Trump has repeatedly spurred public concerns and paranoia with allegations that the Obama administration is planning to admit anywhere from 100,000 to 250,000 (the number is constantly increasing) Syrian refugees this year, which is false. By law, the administration can only admit up to 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2016 (and as stated above, plans to reach that quota have enthusiastically been shot down by Congress). In addition, Trump alleges that a majority of these refugees are purposefully relocated to states with Republican governors (this allegation is made supposedly to rile up Republican supporters also living in those states), which is also not true; state politics are not a factor when deciding where to move refugees. Another Republican nominee in great opposition of Syrian refugee admission is Texas Senator Ted Cruz. Cruz’s main points of argument are that only 3% of the Syrian refugees are Christian (resulting in increased Islamophobia among Christian Americans) and that the overwhelming majority of said refugees are young males (which feeds the fear of terrorist attacks by jihadists posing as refugees that has been growing ever since the Paris attacks). Cruz is actually accurate with his statement about Christian refugees, but there should be some context included. 93% of Syrians admitted by the US are indeed Sunni Muslims. The paranoia about Sunni refugees is shaped by the knowledge that ISIS occupies a Sunni region, but it is important to realize that the area has become an ISIS-controlled territory, as the Sunni residents have all either fled or been slaughtered. The civilian Sunni community in Syria also tends to support the rebels and are the ones who are being subjected to ethnic cleansing and widespread massacre by President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime, which accounts for their massive departing from Syria. It should also be noted that Assad’s regime is made up of Alawi Muslims (a sect of Shia Islam, the dominant form of Islam in Syria) as well as religious minorities (which includes, yes, Christians). As for Cruz’s claim that 77% of Syrian refugees are combat-age males, the reality of the situation proves otherwise- 67% are actually children and women, about 25% are adults over the age of 60, and officials say that only 2% are single, combat-age males.
Public opinion has always been shaped by the politics of our time, and it’s clear that the misleading assertions made by pandering politicians has affected the civilian perspective on Syrian refugees. While 63% of Americans believe immigration to be a “good thing overall”, a recent Bloomberg Politics poll found that 53% of Americans now do not want to accept any Syrian refugees. This response reflects the similar reactions of Americans after international conflict, such as the overwhelming public opposition towards Vietnamese immigrants in 1975 and Cuban immigrants in 1980.
The only way to even start helping the 4.6 million Syrians seeking refuge is to reform public opinion. Politicians currently speak louder than the truth, and this must be remedied. It’s up to us, the few but the powerful, to bring awareness- through our writing, through social media, through promoting healthy discussion- to the real circumstances of American policy towards the Syrian refugees so that we may one day be able to help the millions of men, women, and children in need.