Setting it straight
Because of the terrorist attacks, there are things we need to know about refugees
By Tony Staley
Despite numerous reassurances that a small number of zealots was responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the media report individual retaliation against U.S. Muslims and persons of Arab descent.
Here are the facts on refugees from Mark Franken, executive director of Migration and Refugee Services for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:
The terrorist attacks were the acts of a small minority of Muslim extremists in no way reflective of Islam or any nationality, including Afghanis. Many Afghani refugees resettled in the U.S. fled persecution from the Taliban and their terrorist networks in Afghanistan.
The resettlement of Afghani refugees protects them from persecution by the Taliban government and terrorists. Women, particularly widows, are subject to severe persecution in Afghanistan and cannot obtain an education or hold jobs. The Taliban recruits young men and boys to fight in the army or for terrorist training for attacks such as the one on the U.S.
The nation needs time to respond and identify the appropriate and necessary responses to these attacks to ensure that they do not happen again. But our elected leaders and citizens must not take actions or enact broad and indiscriminate policies that unfairly harm certain ethnic groups or nationalities for years to come.
Refugees are carefully screened -- including numerous interviews by the United Nations, the State Department, and INS -- before they are admitted to the U.S. They also must pass FBI and CIA background checks to ensure they do not threaten national security. None of the identified hijackers in the terrorist attacks entered the country as a refugee.
Refugees are responding to the national tragedy in the same way as U.S. citizens -- giving blood, participating in candlelight vigils, giving money to help the victims and their families.
Our national leaders are urging all Americans not to target persons simply because of their ethnic or religious background. Pres. Bush has repeatedly asked Americans to refrain from unfair treatment or unkind words toward anyone who has a different ethnic or religious background. Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders have called for tolerance.
Refugees from Afghanistan and elsewhere are resettled in the U.S. to protect them from persecution by their government or other groups or persons. They resettle in a new country because their lives are at risk. The U.S. has been a leader in resettling refugees to save lives. It would be contrary to our principles of freedom and justice if Americans also begin persecuting those who have come to our nation for protection.
As Christians, as Americans, we are called to reach out, to welcome those in need.