Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugees. What To Do?

As of this writing, 31 Governors have notified the President that their states will not accept any new refugees from Syria, in light of the recent attacks in Paris. These Governors have been hailed by some for trying to insure the safety of their citizens, and vilified by others for giving in to fear and xenophobia.
The issue of what to do with the millions of refugees fleeing the years old civil war in Syria is a complex problem with humanitarian as well as geo-political ramifications. However many may want to reduce it to a simple case of fear vs. compassion, the facts of this issue are much more intricate and include more mundane concerns like politics and...money.

Also as of this writing, in all the years of the bloody Syrian civil war, so far the countries in the region who share a common heritage, faith and language with most of the refugees...countries like the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, have taken in approximately...ZERO of their Muslim bothers and sisters in the hour of their greatest need. This, despite the fact that each of these countries has plenty of money and the expertise required to resettle them. Although this unfortunate fact certainly doesn't absolve the rest of the world from an obligation to do something to help, it surely should raise a few eyebrows as to...why?

So, the question then becomes, what should be the proper response of the United States government with regards to the humanitarian disaster which is the Syrian refuge? Yesterday, social media was awash in comparisons between this crisis and the Jewish refugees during WWII. For many reasons, I believe this to be a specious argument. First, there weren't any Jews running around machine gunning innocent civilians in restaurants and concert halls in the 1930's, no Jewish state proclaiming a caliphate over the lands of other countries, slaughtering anyone in their path either. Although the vast majority of the Syrians fleeing the war zone are not a party to this ideology, to pretend that amoung them aren't many who are is to be foolishly naive.

We are assured by our government that it can and will fully vet every Syrian it brings into the country. But I don't believe it is either giving in to fear, or displaying paranoia to question their optimism on this score. When they call the Syrian government to follow up on a refugee's background, who is it that actually picks up the phone? An employee of Bashir Assad, the man who's vile administration is responsible for the stream of refugees to begin with??

But, for sake of my argument, let's assume that I am right and that the vetting process is inadequate. Consequently, for every 10,000 Syrian refugees we allow into the country, there are 10 jihadists, a failure rate of only .001%. Is that an acceptable level of risk? According to many of my Christian friends the answer is yes. Scripture is chocked full of commands to treat the foreigner among us with love and compassion. Sure, there is risk involved, but there is risk in practically any noble endeavor. If the failure rate in my example were to rise to 5%, inviting in 500 jihadists, would that level of risk change the equation? I'm speaking theoretically here, since I truly don't know the answer.

Getting back to these Governors. I suppose it's easy to accuse them of pandering to the fear of their constituents, or even trying to embarrass the President with a cynical display of politics. But, regardless of your view on this issue, the number one job of any government is to protect it's citizenry. If a Governor were to agree to take in a couple thousand refugees and just one of them walked into a busy shopping mall and gunned down a couple hundred people, that Governor would go to his political and actual grave with the blood of innocents on his hand. 

Then there's the subject of money. It is estimated by experts that it will cost the United States government approximately $64,000 to care for each refugee it accepts for the first year they are here. This figure includes the cost of health care, resettlement costs, food stamps and other welfare payments, etc.. This, compared to the annual cost of roughly $5400 to provide for them in a neighboring state refugee center in Jordan or Kuwait. (You would think that Kuwait might show a little gratitude in this regard by helping facilitate such a center. We did free them from Sadaam's occupation, after all). Some might say that this more cost effective approach effectively skirts our responsibility by farming it out, in much the same way as Christians farm out our missions responsibility by writing checks instead of going ourselves. Perhaps. But others might suggest that piling on ever more debt by spending money we have to print is neither compassionate or effective.

I find myself stuck in a classic bind. I am held fast between two strong emotions. My heart goes out to innocent people, and the vast majority of those risking life and limb to get the hell out of a war zone are just that...innocent. But my head knows that we have an enemy out there who is hell bent on killing us, and will not hesitate to take advantage of our openness and compassion to do just that...kill us. 

At the moment if I could ask Jesus anything... I would ask him what he meant when he told us to be, "as wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."