Refugees and safety concerns

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | February 17, 2017

Catholic Relief Services offers answers

The ongoing debate about allowing refugees into this country is often framed by safety concerns. Are we compromising national security by allowing people from certain Mideast countries, often hotbeds for terrorist activities, to enter?

Events in the last two weeks have stirred a lot of emotion and anger as a presidential memorandum called for numerous restrictions on refugees entering the United States. At the moment, President Trump’s executive order has been overturned, but the president has promised to introduce a different plan.

The desire to protect our children and other loved ones from harm is a natural instinct. Why would anyone object to making this goal a reality? These sentiments are legitimate and anyone who works in the field of humanitarian aid, especially refugee resettlement, knows and respects these concerns. However, these same people who have direct contact with refugees also share a different experience the rest of us do not: they see the faces of people fleeing torture, violence and death. They hear the stories of how refugees escaped and know their dreams for simply wanting what all of us want: peace and safety for our families.

The refugee crisis can lead to a moral dilemma: protecting our own safety at the expense of others’ safety. But should it really be us against them? Our faith — Scripture and church teachings — tells us no, it should never be that way.

The Catholic Church, through its social and humanitarian agencies, works directly with refugees around the world. In the United States, our own Catholic Relief Services has years of experience in helping refugees. Knowing that Americans have real concerns today, Megan Gilbert of CRS has answered some of these questions.

“People in the United States have concerns about refugees coming here. We get that,” writes Gilbert. “But we also know that many Americans have strong misconceptions about just who refugees are, especially about Syrian refugees.”

Gilbert responds to 11 questions CRS frequently hears. Here are a few of the questions and Gilbert’s responses.

  • On the United States vetting Syrian refugees: “Isn’t it about time we start vetting them?”

“Actually, we’ve had a vetting process for refugees for years. They already undergo a thorough, painstaking process before they are allowed into the United States. Candidates applying for asylum are screened by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the State Department, and the National Counterterrorism Center. They undergo iris scans and their fingerprints are collected. Several interviews are conducted and repeated if necessary. The process can take as long as two years and involves 20 different steps. There are additional measures taken for Syrian refugees, making them the most vetted refugees in the world.”

  • “Most of these refugees are Muslims. Why aren’t Muslim countries taking them in?”

“Predominately-Muslim countries are bearing most of the burden of the Syrian refugee crisis. According to the United Nations Refugee agency, 2.5 million refugees are in Turkey, while Jordan, Iran, Lebanon, and Pakistan combined have another 4.3 million displaced people living in those countries. In Lebanon, one out of three people is a Syrian refugee. Though these are refugees who are not settling permanently, they still have a huge impact on already strained resources and infrastructure — schools, housing and other services. The 85,000 — 12,587 from Syria — who were resettled in the United States in 2016 is a small number by comparison.”

These and other questions in Gilbert’s column are similar to ones The Compass receives from our readers. In an email, Gilbert stated that parishes can print out her column and share it in their bulletins, newsletters or social media sites. Readers can access the column at this link.

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