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Syrian refugees deserve welcome, not rejection
November 17, 2015

Syrian refugees deserve welcome, not rejection
Refugee aboard a train at Budapest’s Keleti station in Hungary. (Kristóf Hölvényi for Jesuit Refugee Service)
Refugee parents are seeing their children going hungry, deprived of an education, lacking adequate medical care, inadequately clothed and facing another harsh winter in buildings with no windows and no heat. Worse, they can see no end in sight.

(Washington, D.C.) November 17, 2015 — As soon as we learned of last Friday’s horrific terrorist attack on Paris, the people of the United States reacted with an immediate outpouring of deep sympathy and solidarity for the people of France. But in the days following the tragedy, a dark side to this reaction has emerged in the form of statements by a number of U.S. governors and commentators who want to blame the victims by barring Syrian refugees desperately seeking our protection from resettlement.

One of the proudest traditions of the United States has been to welcome the stranger. Through the U.S. resettlement program, we have provided a safe harbor to those fleeing violence and oppression, and an opportunity to make a new life in a country that does not just tolerate, but embraces, diversity. 

In the past four decades, America has welcomed more than three million refugees from many countries, including  Vietnam, Somalia, Bhutan, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Colombia,  Burma, and, yes, Syria, to name just a few. All have been selected for vulnerability, and carefully vetted to ensure that these are freedom-seeking people, the kind that you and I would welcome as our neighbors. 

Year after year, these refugees have integrated among us, adding the unique qualities of their traditions and cultures to enrich the tapestry of our communities. 

To call for a halt to the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the wake of the Paris attack makes little sense. These are people who are fleeing violence visited upon their homes during the Syrian conflict, often by ISIS or by other extremist factions. Out of the millions who have fled, only a few thousands have thus far been selected as resettlement candidates, and these are those who have suffered most greatly – widows with children, trauma and torture survivors, members of persecuted minorities. 

They are, furthermore subject to the most rigorous security screening that our government has ever imposed. From initial identification to final approval, these candidates often must wait from eighteen months to two years in wretched conditions before admission to the United States because of our security standards, by far the most stringent in the world. 

It is worth remembering that more than 70 million businesspeople, students, tourists, and immigrants enter the United States each year. The few thousand refugees invited to become part of our community are the most carefully selected and highly vetted of all. 

In the current debate over refugee admissions, it is also important to remember that those lucky few offered resettlement are but a tiny fraction of the four million refugees in neighboring countries and ten million people who have been displaced within Syria. The vast majority of those people would far rather return to their homes than to attempt the dangerous path to Europe or endure the long wait for resettlement. 

Their desperate need to move onward stems from the severe and deepening suffering and growing despair they are experiencing in their present circumstances, which have made life intolerable. Refugee parents are seeing their children going hungry, deprived of an education, lacking adequate medical care, inadequately clothed and facing another harsh winter in buildings with no windows and no heat. Worse, they can see no end in sight. 

As we feel compassion for the terrible loss of the people of Paris, so we must also not forget these other victims of violence struggling to endure in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, and within Syria. 

While we should feel pride that the United States has been the most generous donor to the crisis, we, and the international community, must do far more. Adequate resources must be found to relieve their suffering and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis that has led to the march of hundreds of thousands into Europe. Both our American values and our long-term hopes for peace should compel us to insist on a better response. 

by Mitzi Schroeder

Jesuit Refugee Service/USA Director for Policy

Jesuit Refugee Service International Director Fr. Thomas H. Smolich, S.J., speaks about the importance of recognizing that attacks such as those carried out in Paris should not mean we close our doors to the most vulnerable:

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