COMMENTARY: Don’t repeat history with Syrian refugees
The arguments made by Mr. Aviv Khavich in his piece, “Unsettling Consequences of settling Syrian Refugees” are poorly written and situated on a shaky foundation. The op-ed uses scraps and sound bites to thread together a quasi-coherent, Frankenstein-like argument.
The article begins with a simple sentence: “It has been a conflicted few weeks for Syrian refugees.” A conflicting few weeks is deciding whether or not one wants to upgrade to the new iPhone, it’s exam season or the days leading up to one’s own wedding. I would like to offer a slightly more suitable alternative like, “It has been a horrible five years for Syrian refugees,” or “It has been the deadliest few years for Syrian refugees.” Starting off a piece by limiting the harrowing experiences of a group of people who have suffered the unimaginable to a “conflicted few weeks” leads me to believe that the author, at best, is severely ill-informed about the topic he is about to expound upon.
Mr. Khavich writes that the “Department of Homeland Security Director Leon Rodriguez admitted that refugees are often admitted based on their testimony alone, without corroboration with other documents.” This is false. In the statement referred to, Rodriguez was responding to that very claim made in a memorandum and he has said he doesn’t give the memorandum “a whole lot of credit” because it was written by someone who was unfamiliar with the refugee vetting process. He also added that testimonies absolutely “need to be tested against other information” before individuals are considered for granted asylum. The internet is a wonderful place full of free information, and I would urge Mr. Khavich to acquaint himself with the extensive and rigorous process of carried out background checks on asylum seekers.
Examples like Omar Mateen, Ahmad Khan Rahami, the Nice attackers and the Paris attackers are also used to further illustrate the stance against admitting refugees, but none of the aforementioned are Syrian refugees. Blurring the lines between Syrian refugees and anyone else with a remotely Middle Eastern sounding name that committed a crime is obtuse and serves as nothing more than a senseless scare tactic.
It should also be pointed out that the Paris attackers came from Belgium and France — not from Syria. While Khavich’s article expresses concern over the suspected use of a Syrian passport by one of the attackers, it has already been proven that the passport was a forgery.
Additionally, the United States has a Visa Waiver Program that entitles the citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S. visa-free, which coincidentally includes both Belgium and France. General James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence has stated that there’s an estimated 3,400 European citizens who are affiliated with the Islamic State. This means that the Islamic State need only purchase a plane ticket for their European allies for them to enter the United States, without the hassle of forging a Syrian passport and then applying for refugee status in the United States. According to the proposed logic by Mr. Khavich, all Europeans must also be banned from entering the United States in fear of an Islamic State fighter slipping through the cracks.
While it can be conceded that there are security concerns in Europe, it should be firmly recognized that the refugee crisis in Europe is wholly different from the United States. For one, there lies the Atlantic Ocean. Refugees are unable to walk here, swim here, boat here or drown on our shores. The United States has the ability to be selective with the refugees it admits, which is exactly what it is doing.
A Department of Homeland Security official stated that there is no evidence that refugees accepted into the U.S. are more likely to commit terrorism than anyone else in the country. There have been numerous studies done which all reiterate this sentiment: Keeping people destitute is when they are most vulnerable to radicalization. When we fail to provide refugees with normal lives, and we continue to alienate them, there are others who will take advantage of that hopelessness. If you don’t want the United States to take them in, then the Islamic State will. The proposition made by Mr. Khavich may provide a short-term sense of security, but it will create the very dangers we are so desperate to avoid.
Mr. Khavich concludes his piece by suggesting we stop Syrians from entering the country as long as the Syrian conflict rages on. This sentiment is eerily reminiscent of the 67.4 percent of Americans who said “With conditions as they are, we should try to keep them out,” in July 1938 referring to Jewish refugees fleeing Europe. History has shown us the devastating effects of turning away those refugees. I urge Khavich and the likes of him to reconsider, so that we might not make the same mistake twice.
Hala Alhosh is a School of Arts Sciences senior majoring in Middle Eastern Studies and religion.
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