Statement On Syrian Refugee Resettlement

For ten years, Indiana Center for Middle East Peace (ICMEP) has been at the forefront in Northeast Indiana in its mission “to educate, engage, and empower citizens in NE Indiana in striving for peace, justice, human rights, and intercultural understanding locally and globally.”

As such, we deplore the punitive, discriminatory, and inhumane decision of Indiana Governor Mike Pence to deny access for resettlement of refugees from Syria in Indiana. More than 12 million Syrians have been displaced from their homes, more than one-third of those are refugees, and over half of those refugees are children. There are many who must share the blame and responsibility for the present crisis in Syria and the Middle East, and we can’t escape our own complicity; but none of it must be placed with the refugees fleeing the violence. The fact is that the refugees are being victimized twice over: first, being displaced from their homes, then as objects of prejudice and bigotry.

The strident rhetoric that we hear from many religious and political leaders is self-serving at best, and Islamophobic and racist at worst.  We are not blind to the senseless violence that is being visited upon innocent victims, much of which is perpetrated by a warped understanding of personal glory and the will of God. Nor are we blind to the fact that there are those who want to do us ill. We unequivocally condemn such violence, full stop. We also realize, however, that states also carry out violence and terror, and violate human rights, in the name of national security. And the victims of all this violence are most often innocent of any crime at all.

We at ICMEP have been moved to play a critical role in the committee presently working with city officials to resettle refugees here. Two of our board members, Sam Jarjour and Amar Masri, as well as friend Caleb Jehl, recently spent time in Eastern Europe providing humanitarian assistance to refugees fleeing violence and persecution in their lands. They can attest that these are not terrorists, but instead victims themselves.

We do not believe that security concerns and compassion for and acceptance of refugees into our state are mutually exclusive. For example, the family that Governor Pence turned away had already undergone a three-year screening process, satisfying the requirements at each level. Each refugee family undergoes an extensive and rigorous screening process of an average of 18-24 months, but there are added layers of tests, evaluations, and interviews for Iraqis and Syrians, adding at least another year to the process.

As President Obama recently stated, “We must remember that many of these refugees are themselves victims of terrorism; that’s what they’re fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces betrays our own values. Our nation can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security. We can and must do both.”

We applaud Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, and stand with him and other mayors and political leaders around the country, who recently notified the US Congress that they will support the federal government’s refugee resettlement system and “recognize the importance of continuing to welcome refugees to our country and to our cities,” and with them to urge Congress “to take no action that will prevent Syrian refugees from entering the United States after they have completed the screening process” nor “to jeopardize the rich and proud heritage of our nation as a beacon of hope for those seeing peace and protection from persecution.”

We urge organizations, individuals, and all those who care about human rights to voice their opposition to the governor’s inhumane decision.

America is richer because of its rich ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. Jews, Christians, and Muslims of conscience, indeed all people of good will, both religious and secular, understand that the heart of their religious traditions as well as the ideals upon which our nation was founded all teach us to honor the dignity of every human being, to seek “liberty and justice for all,” and to welcome the stranger, the refugee, who then becomes a sister, a brother, the fellow citizen, because if truth be told we’re all travelers on a journey for a place where we can call home.

Michael Spath, for the ICMEP board

--Michael Spath is the Executive Director of the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace

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