PRESIDENT Trump’s executive order suspending the entire resettlement program for 120 days and banning indefinitely the arrival of Syrian refugees is a repudiation of fundamental American values, an abandonment of the United States’ role as a humanitarian leader and, far from protecting the country from extremism, a propaganda gift to those who would plot harm to America.
Refugees coming to the United States are fleeing the same violent extremism that this country and its allies are fighting in the Middle East and elsewhere. Based on recent data, a majority of those selected for resettlement in America are women and children. Since the start of the war, millions of Syrians have fled not just the military of President Bashar al-Assad but also the forces of Russia, Iranian militias and the IS. There are also thousands of Afghans and Iraqis whose lives are at risk because of assistance they offered American troops stationed in their countries. Compared with other types of immigrants, refugees are the most thoroughly vetted group to enter the United States. The resettlement process can take up to 36 months and involves screenings by the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the Department of Defence, the State Department and the National Counter-terrorism Centre and United States intelligence community. According to Cato Institute, the chances that a citizen here will be killed by a refugee are one in 3.64 billion; an American is far more likely to be killed by lightning than by a terrorist attack carried out by a refugee.
The United States can be proud of its wide network of refugee champions, for good reason: Refugee resettlement is an American success story. And this is true not just on the coasts but across the country. To take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy. There is a further concern raised by the president’s refugee ban. When the United States abjures its responsibility to world’s most vulnerable people, it forgoes its moral authority to call upon countries of Europe, as well as poorer nations like Lebanon, Turkey, Kenya and Pakistan, which host over five million refugees among them, to provide such shelter.
Historically, the United States has welcomed the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and this has helped cement America’s leadership of the international order. But why should others continue to bear their heavy burdens when the United States won’t? Support for refugees is not charity; it is a contribution to the global stability on which all nations depend — and this is especially important at a time when world faces a heightened threat of terrorism.
Terrorists are strategic in their work and their messaging. The civilised world must be equally strategic in its response. Where extremists seek to foster a clash of civilisations, democratic governments should not play into their hands. That is what a ban on specific nationalities does. It is not right, it is not needed and it is not smart. In 1980, when Congress passed the Refugee Act with bipartisan support, President Carter’s secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano Jr., said the refugee issue required the United States to “reveal to the world — and more important to ourselves — whether we truly live by our ideals or simply carve them on our monuments.”
That still resonates today. Expert review of the resettlement vetting process is part of good government. Hasty dismissal of carefully developed systems is harmful in and of itself. It is also a distressing departure from fact-based policy making. The world looks to America for enlightened leadership. Its citizens seek the same from their government. Refugee policy is a telling test for every nation. The United States passed that test for so many years, so it is a tragedy for it now to fail when its commitment is needed more than ever. The writer, a former British foreign secretary, is president and chief executive of International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian aid organisation.
— Courtesy: The New York Times