The resettlement of Syrian refugees has been a political flashpoint of the US presidential election. This week, Donald Trump used a speech outlining his hardline views on immigration and national security to once again raise the specter that terrorists could infiltrate the Syrian resettlement program in the US.
Could dangerous refugees come to the US?
The refugees admitted to the US are much different than those arriving at Europe’s borders.
Unlike in Europe, where immigrants can cross through Turkey and then enter Greece, the immigrants who arrive will have cleared a lengthy screening process. Because of Europe’s Schengen system, refugees could conceivably pass between EU countries without having to show a passport or submit to a background check.
Public anxiety over the arrival of refugees has a historical precedent. The controversy over Syrian immigrants has recalled Americans’ reluctance to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in the years just before the second world war.
And yet an October 2015 analysis by the Migration Policy Institute is a reminder of why many of these fears are misplaced. Of the 784,000 refugees resettled in the United States since 11 September 2001, just three have been arrested for planning terrorist activities, the report found. It adds for context that of those three cases “two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible”.
Finally, denying Syrian refugees entry to the United States would break a decades-long American tradition. After the second world war, the US created its first formal resettlement programs and began to position itself as a safe haven for the persecuted. In the 1970s, the US accepted hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. In 1980, the US accepted as many as 125,000 Cubans during the Mariel boatlift crisis. The 1990s saw an influx of refugees fleeing the wars in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda.
“We have no idea who these people are, where they come from,” Trump said of Syrian refugees during his speech in Phoenix on Wednesday.
We actually do know who these people are
Despite Donald Trump’s repeated claim that the US doesn’t know who it lets into the country, the US’s refugee vetting process is among the most rigorous in the western world.
The state department has said that Syrians flown to the US are among the most heavily vetted group of people currently allowed into the country.
In total, the screening process takes an average of 18 months to two years and involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies who carry out a series of security screenings and checks.
The process begins with an initial vetting by the United Nations’ refugee agency. Prospective candidates are then referred to the US, where officials from the state department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the defense department conduct further vetting.
The homeland security secretary, Jeh Johnson, said recently that the department had “added security checks to the process” specifically for Syrian refugees as well as designated more resources to help make the process more efficient. As an added check, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services are instructed to review the social media accounts of Syrian refugee applicants who are referred for more enhanced vetting.
Immigration officials have a very good idea of who they are accepting from Syria even before their plane touches down on American soil.
How many Syrian refugees has the US accepted?
After a painstakingly slow start, the White House announced this week that it had achieved its goal of resettling 10,000 refugees by the end of this fiscal year.
Barack Obama made the commitment last year under pressure from Europe and the United Nations for the US to play a bigger role in confronting the global refugee crisis. The majority of the refugees were accepted in the last three months. Before that, the US had admitted just a quarter of the 10,000 displaced Syrians it pledged to resettle. In total, the US has resettled roughly 12,000 Syrian refugees since the war began five years ago.
Are Syrian refugees likely to be Isis sympathizers?
The Syrian refugees who are coming to the US are among the most vulnerable in the Syrian conflict: many are women and their children, religious minorities and victims of violence or torture. Many have fled to escape the brutality of both the Islamic State, or Isis, and the Assad government and are doing so at their own peril.
The worsening Syrian refugee crisis has undermined Isis’s claim that its caliphate is a safe haven for Muslims. In choosing to risk their lives on the dangerous journey to Europe and beyond rather than join Isis’s caliphate is a sharp rejection of the group and its ideology. On several occasions the Islamic state has condemned refugees who flee its strongholds.
In effect, some experts argue that by rejecting Syrian refugees, American politicians are in fact helping Isis. When the US shuts the door on Syrian Muslims, it reinforces Isis’s argument that the west does not want to assist them and that their only salvation lies in Isis.
Read the complete article and more on The Guardian newspaper web site here.