Since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011, millions of Syrian citizens have fled the country to avoid oppression and murder at the hands of the Assad regime (Opposing viewpoints, 2017). This turmoil has led citizens to seek residence in neighboring countries and in 2015, the United States became another safe haven for the victims of the Syrian Civil War. With an estimated eleven million Syrians displaced and five million still fleeing, the refugee crisis does not seem to be ending anytime soon (Opposing viewpoints, 2017). Called a humanitarian crisis, many Americans believe that it is their duty to aid these displaced citizens while others argue that the influx of refugees increase the likelihood of violence against Americans. This fear stems from a general misunderstanding of clear statistics regarding the harmlessness of the vast majority of refugees, and the stereotypical association with religion (Muslims), ISIS, and other terror groups.
Since the influx of refugees into the United States, there has been turmoil among Americans trying to decide if taking in refugees, is a safe decision. This is largely based on the fear of the terrorist group, ISIS and its assumed affiliation with the Muslim religion. In 2016 alone the United States took in ten thousand Syrian refugees, a sixty percent increase from the current Syrian population in the country (Rhodan, 2016). Since the 2016 influx year, there have been a total of eighteen terror attacks in the United States, most of which were associated with political motivated violence, including the slaying of police officers by radicals of various political groups, and attacks on protestors as in the case of Charlottesville, Virginia (Johnson, 2017). Although, terror attacks from Islamic radicals can happen in the United States as was reflected in the tragedy of the Pulse Nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, the chances of falling victim to a terror attack are rare. According to CNN the chances of being harmed by a Muslim refugee are slim to none stating that only seventeen of the eighty-five thousand total refugees admitted into the United States in 2016, “have been convicted of attacking or participating in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in the last forty years (Willingham, Martucci, et al., 2017).” That boils down to less than one percent of total refugees that have been involved in any violent activity in the United States. Further, none of these attacks have been committed by Syrians (Willingham, Martucci, et al., 2017).
Even as the assumed threat of violence is slim, the United States government is not taking Middle-Eastern immigration lightly. According to the Migration Policy Institute, “the U.S. government thoroughly screens refugees’ backgrounds- an intense process involving the Department of Homeland Security and State, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and national intelligence agencies (Capps, Fix, 2015)”. The process takes over a year to complete before refugees are allowed to resettle in the United States, a much quicker rate than some neighboring countries such as Canada who’s vetting period is a mere four months (Capps, Fix, 2015). Furthermore, Syrians are fleeing from the very regime which produces the terrorist groups Americans are afraid of; the Islamic State (IS). The IS is a very violent militant group who have been known to persecute several groups of people including Christians (BBC, 2017). Radicals of this group who started as an al-Qaida group in Iraq, have now been planning and carrying out terror attacks around the world. The brutal Civil War in Syria caused by the fight for power between the supporters of the current President, al-Assad and the opposition caused chaos and violence in the Islamic State. Recognizing the disorganization within the government and State, the IS invaded the area and was able to gain power quickly (BBC, 2017). It is under the rule of the unforgiving Islamic State that millions of refugees have chosen to leave their homes to protect their families. It is illogical to think that these families, fleeing such violence and government hostility, would then seek to create turmoil in the State they now call home.
In addition, with over seven million people coming and going within the United States, it then becomes a question of, ‘why single out Syrian refugees?’ Seven million people a year visit the United States from all over the world (Willmington et. Al, 2017). These visitors do have to go through customs and security at the airport but by no means are they vetted before being allowed to enter the country. It is true that there are no fly lists to help safeguard the threat of terrorist violence, but that alone is not always a guarantee of good intent. Therefore, it could be argued that refugees being brought into the country after over a year of vetting by both the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, as well as two other government agencies, pose even less of a risk than those who leisurely travel to the United States by means of routine airport and customs protocol.
One of the major problems regarding the acceptance of refugees is the lack of international law to assist them. According to the European Parliamentary Research Blog, international law on the matter states there is nothing within International law or human rights treaties that force states to take in refugees. It goes on to say that, “(refugees) have a right to seek asylum, but not to be granted asylum” (Refugee Status, 2015).” This confirming there is no real measure to force the intake of Syrian refugees. Due to lack of obligation by law, ultimately, the decision falls on the states themselves and their openness to the intake of those displaced by tragedies like those currently happening in Syria. This has undoubtedly been one justification for rejecting refugees as nothing confines states to this responsibility. This lack of international law also causes an additional problem for both refugees and the countries in which they enter. Due to the extreme situation, some refugees are left with no choice but to enter some countries illegally (UNHCR, 2001-2017). This can lead to harsh punishments for desperate refugees who are then perceived as criminals which further degrades the reputation and perception of Syrian refugees (Refugee Status). However, the enforcement and upholding of humanity and human rights should be the main focus when addressing these kinds of issues. Despite the lack of international law obligating states to shelter refugees, the common goal of human rights and equality is an obligation both in the United States and around the world. By refusing to provide asylum to Syrian refugees, this common goal is left unaccomplished.
In conclusion, the danger and correlation between ISIS, terror attacks, and refugees, is unfounded. Stemming from the tragic and heinous attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, many Americans have opposed the influx of refugees since they began to flee Syria in 2011 strictly due to their Muslim background. However, the regular international travel, the clear statistics regarding the harmlessness of the vast majority of refugees, and the clear disassociation with ISIS and other terror groups, and the vast majority of Muslims should be understood. Syrian refugees pose no more of a threat to the American public than any of the seven million visitors to the United States every year. According to I am Syrian, the death toll from January 2017 to June totals four-hundred seventy thousand dead, fifty-five thousand of that number are children (2017). For Syrians facing the murder of their children and the dismantling of their families, fleeing is their only option. It is the world’s duty to aid in this crisis and help these desperate Syrian families.
Capps, R., & Fits, M. (n.d.). Ten Facts About U.S. Refugee Resettlement. In Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from file:///C:/Users/asimpson005/Downloads/Refugee-Facts-Oct-2015-FINAL.pdf
Death Count in Syria (2017, June). In I am Syrian. Retrieved August 25, 2017, from http://www.iamsyria.org/death-tolls.html
Johnson, R. (2017, August 13). Terrorist attacks and related incidents in the United States. In Terrorist attacks and related incidents in the United States. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from http://www.johnstonsarchive.net/terrorism/wrjp255a.html
Kathleen, N. (2015, October). The U.S. Record Shows Refugees Are Not a Threat. In Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved August 25, 2017, from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/news/us-record-shows-refugees-are-not-threat
Rhodan, M. (2016, September 20). President Obama: U.S. Will Accept 110,000 Refugees from Around the World. In TIME. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from http://time.com/4501924/barack-obama-refugee-increase-united-nations/
“Refugee Status Under International Law.” European Parliamentary Research Service Blog, European Parliament, 27 Oct. 2015, https://epthinktank.eu/2015/10/27/refugee-status-under-international-law/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
Syria. (2017). In Opposing Viewpoints Online Collection. Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/PC3010999153/OVIC?u=spl_main&xid=01349596
The Sunni-Shia Divide (2016, February). In Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved August 25, 2017, from https://www.cfr.org/interactives/sunni-shia-divide?cid=otr-marketing_url-sunni_shia_infoguide#!/sunni-shia-divide?cid=otr-marketing_url-sunni_shia_infoguide
The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, 2001-2017, www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/latest/2016/6/5763b65a4/global-forced-displacement-hits-record-high.html. Accessed 27 Sept. 2017.
What’s happening in Syria? (2017, April 7). In BBC. Retrieved August 28, 2017, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/16979186
Willmingham, A., Martucci, P., & Leung, N. (2017, March 6). The chances of a refugee killing you – and other surprising immigration stats. In CNN. Retrieved August 25, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/immigration-stats-by-the-numbers-trnd/index.html