By James Nelson
Since the Paris attacks the debate around America’s role in the refugee crisis has intensified to a fever pitch. This has been propelled somewhat by actual facts surrounding the Paris attacks, but has largely been from conflated and distorted facts or outright fabrications from extreme right wing groups, and in the circus of a presidential primary season these things are being distorted even further (politicians will be politicians). The left wants to portray refugees as a benign group of orphaned children and the right sees them as a security threat at best, and as bloodthirsty terrorists who will stop at nothing to obliterate everything good about America at worst. The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.
Much of this comes from how little we as Americans know about refugees and what distinguishes them from other migrants, and also what the refugee process actually looks like, and in the aftermath of Paris it makes sense to have an abundance of caution. The problem is what I’m seeing on social media and in the news is not an abundance of caution, much of it is fear: fear of the unknown, and fear of another 9/11. After all, most Americans have never met a refugee and have no idea the lengths they’ve gone through to get here. To demonstrate this, I’m going to break down many of the ideas about Daish (ISIS) and refugees.
- The Paris Attackers Were Refugees: False
Based on what we know now, none of the Paris attackers were refugees, nor were any of them even foreign. All of them were European. Most were actually French, with a few from Belgium. The idea that they were refugees comes from the Syrian Passport that was found at the Stade de France, which matched fingerprints from one of the suicide bombers. We know that he traveled up the migrant trail through Greece and then into France. That being said, top EU officials are stating that he is a European national, but have yet to release his actual name. It’s believed he used the forged document because his name was on a terrorist watchlist.
Part of the problem with this is the nature of what a refugee is versus what a migrant is. A migrant is someone who travels from one place to another, but that gives them no legal status. Another term for a refugee is an asylum seeker. They are moving from Syria, for instance, into Europe to receive a special legal status so that they can legally work and live in a new country. Until they receive that status they are not allowed to work, and depending on the country not allowed to leave their housing area.
2) The Migrant Trail in Europe is a Security Risk: Absolutely
One of the bombers did in fact use the migrant trail from Syria to Europe to infiltrate France. That is undisputed. More than that, intelligence agencies from multiple countries are worried that Daish have used it to smuggle fighters into Europe. There was also a good piece by Buzzfeed in January that quoted a Daish operative saying that they had smuggled 4,000 gunmen into Europe. There’s not a doubt in my mind that the number is conflated, but there are no doubt more terrorists lurking in Europe, and they used the migrant trail to do that. For instance, until the Paris bombings they believed the mastermind of the attack was still in Syria, when he may in fact be in Paris.
3) Refugees Entering the US Present a Security Risk: Probably Not
Seeing as I’m not a security expert I hesitate to state my own opinion, but many think it is the safest and most stringent process of legal entry into the US. The process errs on the side of caution, so much so that the vast majority of applicants are not accepted, and in the case of the Syrian refugees allowed entry so far, only two percent have been “combat age” males. The vast majority have been women and children. In addition, the application and vetting process takes anywhere from twelve to eighteen months before they’re allowed entry into the US. Obama’s resettlement of 10,000 Syrian refugees is not going to circumvent this process.
This speaks more to the nature of the process than anything else, only one act of terrorism has been committed by refugees (Boston Marathon Bombing), and they were brought into the US as children and became radicalized in the US.
It is far more likely that a terrorist in the US would be an American citizen than be foreign. In fact, every deadly terrorist attack in the US since 9/11 have been performed by American citizens (one of the Tsarneav brothers was an American citizen, the other was in the process of becoming one). Of total terrorism in the US only 39 percent was even related to Islam. Of the two attempted terrorist acts post-9/11 to have been committed by non-Americans, (the Underwear Bomber and the Shoe Bomber) neither were refugees.
Therefore, it’s much more likely for a radicalized American muslim to commit an act of terror than a refugee. It’s a more logical choice to slip in someone who knows english as their first language, understands the culture, and had the legal ability to move in and out of the country with little to no scrutiny. For those who are not American and may be on a watch list, think about this: someone who wants to wage jihad on America doesn’t want to wait 18 months to enter the country to do that. They’re going to do one of two things; get a student or work visa (which is still much easier to get), or slip in through the Mexican or Canadian border. Basically what I’m saying is there are much, much easier ways to slip into the US, and both statistically and historically terrorists don’t come from a refugee population.
That being said, what makes this different from what’s happening in Europe (where terrorists are blending in with the migrants) is that we don’t have a mass migration moving into our soil directly from the heart of a broken and unstable state where radical violence is forcing normal people to flee … well, that’s unless you count Mexico.
4) Refugees are Responsible for Violence in Germany: It’s a Mixed bag
So, Paris has overshadowed this somewhat, but one of the main pieces of evidence against the US accepting refugees was the bouts of refugee related violence in Germany. There have been instances of mass violence, with security guards reporting that the refugees are constructing their own weapons out of bed frames and toothbrushes. It’s hard to tell without solid statistics, but based on the reporting the violence seem to be attributable to two things: 1) violence against refugees by anti-immigration parties (in Germany we call these people Neo-Nazis), and 2) migrant on migrant violence. Majority of the violence seems to be instigated by one person of another ethnicity (say German, or Albanian) attacking or threatening another, and considering these migrants are all living on top of one another, it’s not difficult to make a posse and go after the person who started it, and since the violence is largely ethnic to begin with, well, then that’s when you have 200 Pakistanis fighting 300 Syrians.
Oh, and that’s the other thing, this migrant flux is multiethnic. It’s not just Syrians moving into Europe, it’s Syrians, Kurds, Lybians, Eretrians, etc., and each group either is of a different religion all together or is a sunni, or Shi’a, or Syrian Christian, etc. So, in other words, this is what you get when you pack a bunch or people (like a thousand plus), into a warehouse and give them nothing to do. This is also another way the US handles refugees differently, but of course that’s largely because we don’t handle large influxes of human beings trafficked into a unsecured border (Oh, wait, did I just accidentally mention Mexico again?).
So basically, before you get all up in arms about blocking a bunch of homeless refugees from a war torn country, think about all of the other issues we’ve got going on (and we’ve got some big ones). It’s highly unlikely that a terrorist would make there way here as a refugee from Syria. Now Mexico on the other hand…