Catherine Milroy, Haleigh Monahan, and Shanyn Valentine
In the wake of the Parisian attacks conducted by DAESH affiliates and the shooting in San Bernardino by two sympathizers, questions have been raised about whether or not to accept Syrian refugees into the US. However, many Americans lack a comprehensive understanding of the refugee crisis and American foreign policy concerning asylum seekers.
In April 2011, 5000 refugees poured out of Talkalakh, Syria and into Lebanon on a path previously used primarily in blackmarket trade. Since then, more than three million refugees have entered Lebanon, Turkey, the EU, and other countries, fleeing civil war against Syria’s dictator, Bashar Al-Assad and DAESH, more commonly known in the United States as ISIS or ISIL.
Then, in March of 2011, when the revolution started, pro-democracy protesters took to the streets of the city of Deraa after students were arrested for painting pro-revolutionary images and slogans on the walls of their school. Security opened fire on these protesters, triggering protests across the country calling for Assad’s resignation.
The country descended into civil war, and by July 2013, the UN estimated that more than 90,000 had been killed in the conflict. However, civil war was to evolve past a call for a new government; soon, it would adopt religious overtones, with the country’s Sunni majority pitted against Assad’s Shia sect.
In addition, the extremist group DAESH would soon enter the equation, adding yet another violent layer to this already lethal concoction. As of August 2015, more than 250,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and more than four million have fled the war stricken country, and only 2,174 refugees have been accepted to the United States since 2011 according to The Guardian.
The US has always accepted refugees from all over the world. Recent refugee figures include: 35.1% from nations such as Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan; 32.1% from various African nations; and 26.4% from Eastern Asian nations such as China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. However, the Syrian conflict is providing the world with unprecedented numbers of refugees, eclipsing the relatively ignored refugees of ethnic conflict in countries such as Afghanistan and southern Sudan.
According to the American Immigration Council, to qualify for asylum, a refugee must be actively persecuted by their home country or have a “well-founded fear of persecution” on the grounds of “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” These applicants undergo a rigorous process to qualify for asylum and resettlement in the US, including extensive background checks, screenings, interviews, etc. The AIC also reports that refugees can be denied entry based upon “health-related [reasons], moral/criminal grounds, and security grounds. They may also be excluded for polygamy, misrepresentation of facts on visa applications, smuggling, and previous deportations.” Due to these screening practices, it is considered to be impractical for a terror organization such as DAESH or Al-Qaeda to use this process to place insurgents in the United States. “The United States seeks to welcome many of them here. Please know that as President, it is always my top priority to ensure that you are safe. At the same time, we must stay true to who we are as a people. Americans are big-hearted, understanding, and compassionate. We have always asked what we can do to help, and we lend a hand to those in need.” President Obama writes on the issue of immigration.
After the attacks in Paris in November, people began to seriously question the US’s involvement in Syria, and the current policy in regards to the refugees. As of right now more than half of America’s governors have claimed that their state will not accept refugees.
However, one of the few states still “open” to refugees is Virginia. Governor McAuliffe’s office has stated that Virginia will not close its borders to refugees, and Senator Tim Kaine, who has been pushing for the US to accept more Syrian refugees, has publicly denounced the governors closing their states to resettlement, saying, “I am very disappointed in the xenophobic response from governors across the country today who vowed to keep Syrian families who have passed rigorous background checks from entering their states — refugees who are fleeing the very same violence and terror that we saw on the streets of Paris[…]”
Many have questioned whether it is within the power of the state to close itself off from resettlement, and, in short, the truth is that it does not have this power; asylum and resettlement is a federal job and is federally directed. However, this disparity in opinion illustrates both fear of terrorism and the popular misinformation surrounding policy concerning the process necessary to obtain refugee status.
Like Congress, there is a split in opinion within Cosby’s student body. When asked if the US was doing enough to help the refugees, senior Tyrah Whitehead said, “The country isn’t doing enough for its own citizens!” It has been indicated that there is a majority of people that support resettlement- and according to polls, 38% of our school’s population believes in unconditional asylum, 8% agreed with asylum with limitation, and 26% said to allow asylum if it benefits the US. This compares with a 12% figure saying that the country should not accept refugees, and 14% having no opinion.
A noticeable concern among those opposed to bringing in refugees—both nationwide and in Cosby interviews—was a fear of terrorist infiltration. “I don’t want to get blown up!” said Somer Demers, upon being asked if Syrians seeking asylum should be allowed to enter the US.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has even gone so far as to state that there can only be trouble if Muslim people are permitted to stay in the US, saying on The O’Reilly Factor that there is “a Muslim problem.”
Comments like these raise the question of whether islamophobia is heavily linked to a growing hesitation to opening the borders to Syrian refugees. In interviews with a few of Cosby’s Muslim students, they reassured that our school, at least, was relatively inclusive. Sejad Cirkic said, “I feel like at Cosby it’s probably more accepting. I’ve never felt judged for being a Muslim. No one’s ever said anything to me.” Naseha Hussain also said Cosby was more inclusive, and she had never been bullied at Cosby, but “In middle school once I got bullied, and someone used to try to take my scarf off on the bus because he wanted to see what my hair looked like.”
The Syrian refugee crisis is far from over; in order to fully eliminate threats, and in all likelihood more will continue to flee for their safety. As the United Nations and neighboring Middle Eastern nations provide asylum for Syrian citizens, America must decide whether or not to bring in these people as well.
Many people are doing what they can to understand the situation, educating themselves, watching the news, getting an idea of what sheltering refugees will fully entail. Cosby has showed a large support to bring in refugees, unfazed by prejudice, which can only be something to be praised.