I would like to offer a few reflections on the Middle Eastern refugee crisis, which is currently absorbing much of the attention of our government and news media.
First of all, I believe that the position of our Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators on this issue--namely, that the U.S. should categorically refuse to grant asylum to any innocent refugees from Syria or Iraq whatsoever--is sadly misguided, as it is based on fear and unhealthy nationalism rather than facts and clear rational thinking. Those who hold this position are painfully aware of the ongoing violence being perpetrated in Syria by anti-government rebels and terrorist guerillas affiliated with the notorious organized crime ring known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and they are rightly concerned to protect our national security by ensuring that such violent and lawless fanatics do not find their way onto U.S. soil. However, their jingoistic and exclusionist approach of "Just say NO" to allowing any Syrian or Iraqi refugees into our country is a simplistic and inadequate solution to a complex and far-reaching problem.
To begin with, it is worth reminding ourselves that the vast majority of the so-called "Syrian rebels" belonging to ISIS who are engaged in conflict with the Assad regime are not native to Syria at all, but are actually foreign fighters who have been recruited by ISIS from neighboring countries. Secondly, by its outrageously immoral and recklessly dangerous foreign policy strategy of arming and funding these ruthless "Syrian rebels," the Obama administration is directly responsible for the growth of ISIS into a powerful totalitarian guerrilla terrorist organization that has spread all over the Middle East, seizing control of large portions of Iraq and Syria and wreaking such terrible havoc in those areas. Thirdly, by gratuitously feeding the ISIS monster, our own government is indirectly responsible for the resulting mass exodus of refugees from the heartland of the Middle East. The least we can do to make amends for such madness is to offer safe haven to some of these innocent refugees who have lost their homes, their possessions, their churches, and their homelands at the hands of U.S.-sponsored terrorists.
Opponents of allowing Iraqi and Syrian refugees into our country assert that we should help resettle them elsewhere in the Middle East. Easier said than done. The entire Middle East is about half the size of the continental U.S. and ISIS cells are all over the place, including North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Where can four million refugees go? Several million Iraqi and Syrian refugees are already packed into UN-administered camps in Jordan and Lebanon, the two friendliest countries in the region, and these nations' already strained resources simply cannot accommodate another vast influx of refugees. Some could perhaps find refuge in Israel, but that nation's population density is already high so only a few if any would be allowed in there. Religious freedom is under attack in Turkey and Iran. Egypt has its own issues to deal with. And forget about Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to be a Christian. Thanks to the misguided and foolish foreign policy of Presidents Bush and Obama, the Middle East is now an unstable and dangerous place. Trying to convince and help the refugees to stay there would not be wise and would not yield positive results. Most of them would prefer to relocate to Europe, Canada, or the United States. And who can blame them?
Fears that ISIS terrorists will take advantage of a Middle Eastern refugee influx to sneak into this country legally through our refugee system are groundless. Under current law, all refugees seeking to enter the United States must go through a lengthy and rigorous one and a half to two year screening process involving extensive background checks for the sake of our national security. No ISIS terrorist suspect disguised as a refugee would ever make it all the way through this stringent system. As proof of this, it should be pointed out that of the 750,000 refugees who have entered the
U.S. through our refugee process since September 11, 2001, not a single one has been arrested on charges of
domestic terrorism. We can admit Iraqi and Syrian refugees into our country without compromising our national security one iota.
These millions of refugees are not terrorists, and they do not pose a credible threat to our national security. On the contrary, they are innocent victims of terrorism--ordinary men, women, and children who have lost everything at the hands of godless ISIS fanatics and who are simply looking for a place where they can live decent and normal lives in peace, security, and freedom. Many of them share our Christian faith, which was originally brought to their lands by the Apostles themselves. They keep alive a rich and ancient cultural heritage. Like most immigrants from Mexico and Central America, they are willing to work hard to support their families and would make a significant contribution to our nation's economy if given the opportunity to do so. Some would probably want to stay here only temporarily and then return to their homeland in a few years or so once conditions improve there, while others would wish to settle here permanently and eventually become full-fledged American citizens. And we have a large country with plenty of room, lots of opportunities, freedom and security, a secure refugee admission process, and a long and proud history of welcoming and assimilating millions of immigrants and refugees who fled unfavorable conditions in their home countries. It would be the height of arrogance and a repudiation of our national heritage to simply shut and lock the doors of our borders in the faces of these desperate refugees without a second thought. That is not how a Christian country like ours should act in response to a refugee crisis like this.
As Pope Francis reminded us in his address to Congress this past September, the Golden Rule should guide our nation's policy toward those innocent human beings seeking to enter our nation. We should treat the Syrian and Iraqi refugees as we would want to be treated if we were in their place. If we want security, we should provide security for those at risk who face an uncertain future. If we want opportunities, we should provide opportunities for those whose options are limited. It's a matter of basic justice and respect for human rights. Where justice and human rights are not recognized and respected, peace cannot flourish. Furthermore, we should bear in mind that these refugees are actually Christ Jesus in a distressing disguise, and that whatever we do for them, we do for Christ himself. "'"I was...a stranger and you welcomed Me"'" (Matthew 25:35). This doesn't mean we have to admit all four million refugees into our country in the next couple of years, which would be impossible to do in any case given the necessary rigors and limitations of our refugee admission system. Besides, many will no doubt find refuge in Europe and Canada, where quotas are already being set. However, as part of the world community, we can and should be open to helping these other countries shoulder and absorb part of this massive refugee burden.
We should commit to admitting a certain number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees over the next two to three years--50,000 at the very least, perhaps even 100,000 to 150,000. While the exact quota to be determined by our government is a matter for healthy debate, we should all agree that zero is not an acceptable number. We must not abandon hundreds of thousands of our fellow brothers and sisters to homelessness and deprivation without expecting the negative consequences to affect our own country sooner or later. Such a foolish rejectionist policy reeks of callousness, prejudice, xenophobia, and indifference.
Welcoming a certain number of refugees from Syria and Iraq into the U.S. through the appropriate official channels will have great benefits not only for the refugees themselves, but for our country as well. In addition to the boost they will give our struggling economy, their presence here will present an opportunity for mutual cultural exchange and friendship that will enrich the lives of Syrians, Iraqis, and Americans, building lasting bridges for a better future for everyone. By providing a friendly safe haven to these marginalized individuals, we will have made a significant contribution to building a more just, more humane, and more peaceful world. And by acting in a truly Christian manner towards these people, we will win the favor of Divine Providence and earn the heavenly reward promised to those who care for the least of Christ's brethren. In short, while there are many good reasons to admit Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the United States, there are no good reasons whatsoever to keep them out.
Copyright 2015 Justin D. Soutar.