My last blog regarding this issue was about the St. Mark’s Cathedral Advent Appeal for Syrian refugees who will come to us in Western Washington. We very much hope you will join us in this response. You can give online or send a check to the Diocese of Olympia. Two things from that blog, first a wonderful article about the Very Rev. Peter DeVeau, Dean of the Cathedral in Kansas City and our former colleague here in Olympia about his interaction with Muslims there and especially Kansas City Chiefs safety Hussain Abdullah. You can read the article here And also an article in The Stranger, which I think so poignantly speaks to the thoughts of many Muslim neighbors in these days.
As we enter a new year, I write this blog more about those refugees who most likely will never make it here. And I also write it in sadness at the vast ignorance of the facts, and, even more for an overwhelming lack of desire to know them. That has produced a sizable populous willing to buy the reckless sound bites coming from those who have not bothered to look at any facts, but simply want to spread fear, often for the sake of their own fortunes. Such statements as “Syrians are pouring over our borders” being a prime example. Such could not be farther from the truth. My hope, in this blog, is to put you in touch with some people who have gotten pretty close to the epicenter of this situation there, and to the center of the reception of refugees here, to share some facts and realities of the situation.
You may remember that a small group of five people from this diocese traveled to Turkey and Iraq last September. They were within miles of the Syrian border. They visited Refugee camps throughout the area and saw first hand the difficult situation there. Fr. Dale Johnson, who you will be introduced to in the video below if you have not met him already lives within miles of the Syrian border. It was reported that the bombing is now close enough for Fr. Dale to see from his quarters. Flyers are being distributed in the area from a Turkish group, threatening harm if the Syriac Christians celebrate Christmas.
Four of the five who went on this trip presented at our Convention in November. This group has a page on our ecww.org site, http://seedsofhope-ecww.org/. and we also interviewed them on video. This was also just recently highlighted in the Anacortes paper. You can read that article here
Greg Rhodes, one of those who traveled has a blog where he has shared much of his experiences on the trip, you can find that here Deacon Eric Johnson also went on this trip and you can find his blog here
There is much talk about Syrian Refugees coming to our shores and towns but few facts. I thought I might share some here. This is a recent article sharing why it actually takes two years for Syrians to get into the US.
And much of the following information comes from Greg Hope, Executive Director of the Refugee Resettlement Office of the Diocese of Olympia,
A small number, 1,854 refugees from Syria have been admitted to the US since 2012, compared to 784,000 refugee admissions since 2001. (1) So far this year, 3,700 people have died attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Greece or Italy. (2)
Americans, who witnessed the body of Aylan Kurdi on a beach in Greece before the attacks in Paris, seemed ready to welcome increasing numbers of refugees, up to 100,000 as Senator Dick Durban proposed, or 65,000 as recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (3) But afterwards, as 130 died in Paris, that changed. Thirty governors, in a massive show of fear, inflated the dangers posed by refugees from the current conflagration and tried to bar their entry to specific states.
As of today, 10,000 refugees from the Middle East, will survive a detailed and rigorous security screening and arrive in the US in 2016. (4) Once they arrive, they are free to migrate to a state of their choice where the majority will undoubtedly contribute after a period of adjustment as productive members of the community.
Of the 10,000 refugees from the Middle East, about 500 will land in Washington State. The Refugee Office expects that 50 will be sponsored by the Diocese of Olympia. These trifling numbers paint the US as lacking leadership and support for the right of Syrian refugees to migrate in search of safety. The numbers are also tokenism that falls short of a practical strategy for getting qualified refugees out of intolerable camps where they are warehoused and more or less waiting. But low participation by the US will persist so long as fear dresses up as prudence.
Refugee programs have been attacked for bringing terrorists to our shores, though only 3 of the 784,000 resettled in the last decade have been arrested for terrorism charges. (5)
Of course, US refugee policy since the inception of the Refugee Act of 1980 presents a staged response to a refugee crisis anywhere in the world. The first priority is adequate shelter in neighboring states with the aim of eventually returning refugees to their homeland. Most refugees themselves prefer this solution. In the case of those with a well-found fear of persecution, such as living in the Islamic State’s caliphate or facing Bashar Al-Assad who’s willing to burn his country to the ground, resettlement is considered an option.
As the US public hears that Syrians are not so much trouble, perhaps a healthy dose of chagrin and embarrassment will lead to a more welcoming stance. When that happens resettlement agencies like the Diocese and the networks of contributing organizations that provide social service support may be portrayed as inadequate entities that re-traumatize the migrants so why bring them here in the first place.
At the Refugee Office we are ready to countermand these arguments with a full hearted delivery of the programs that range from initial food, shelter and clothing for refugee newcomers to English classes, job search activities and business training.
1. Greg Hope, ED of Refugee Resettlement Office Seattle, compilation of data from Office of Refugee Resettlement website, tab Refugee Arrival Data, and Refugee Processing Center, Arrival Reports 11/30/15.
2. Reuters, EU Gets 1 Million Migrants in 2015, smugglers seen making 1 Billion, Tom Miles, December 2015.
3 Top Democratic Senator Wants the US to Take in 100,000 Syrian Refugees, Huffington Post, September 15, 2015.)
4. FY2016 Refugee Admissions: Department of State, Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.)
5. Kathleen Newland, “The US Record Shows Refugees Are Not a Threat,” Migration Policy Institute, October 2015.)
I am quite open, and even hope, for a reasoned and diverse conversation on this issue, but I would hope that comments are based in some research, some factual reflection. We can certainly disagree, but the lives for which we debate deserve at least that. May this also remain in our daily prayers, prayers that move us to study, learn, and act.