November 5, 2016

Open Your Hearts, America: The Syrians are Coming.

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The following piece originally appeared on the Shambhala Times, our partners in creating enlightened society. Stay tuned for more hosted articles by our friends at the Shambhala Times!

According to recent polling, Donald Trump has less than an eight percent chance to win this election.

That means Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is more than likely to take her seat in the Oval Office come this January. As far as the refugees of the Syrian Civil War are concerned, that means that America is soon to see an almost 550 percent increase in the amount of Syrians coming to our country—jumping from 12,000 to 65,000 Syrian refugees.

As I periodically check my Facebook feed from my current posting in Liberia, West Africa, I can see the panic this is causing in many Americans. Americans are voicing that they would rather let in “poor and starving African women and children” but not these “Syrian refugees with smart phones who are poisonous and only want to kill us.”

As I write this post from Liberia, where I work with “poor and starving African women and children” every day, I can tell you that though they need a lot, they do not need to come to our country. The best way we can help them is by donating, or—if we have both the desire and ability—going to work for one of the effective non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that are supporting them in the right ways.

The Syrians, on the other hand, do need to come to our country. Having worked in the refugee crisis last year as the Medical Coordinator for a trauma unit on the Greek Island of Lesvos, I met thousands of these Syrian refugees many of us are so fearful of, heard their stories, saw photos of the rubble that remained of their homes, and witnessed their injuries, from head-to-toe acid burns to multiple missing limbs.

Syrian refugees need to come to our country not because they are poor and want a better life in America, and not because they want to kill us. The Syrians need to be accepted into countries where there is safety; fortunately for Americans, we have safety. We as a country, thus, have an obligation to the world and to humanity to do more.

Here are a few statistics to illustrate the current situation in which Syrians find themselves:

250,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the past five years of the conflict. 11,000,000 have been forced from their homes and 4,500,000 have fled the country in search of safety. They are desperately crossing the Mediterranean Sea in overcrowded rubber boats every day, praying that they will reach the European coastline and not join the 3,800 who have lost their lives on that journey already this year.

Germany alone has accepted more than 400,000 Syrian refugees and the United States only 12,000. In a matter of just two years after the Vietnam War—from 1979 to 1980—the United States accepted 318,000 Vietnamese refugees. The United States needs to do more, and simply praying for the Syrians is not enough.

1.5 to 2 Years vs. 1-3 Months

This is the difference in time it takes for a Syrian refugee to gain asylum in the United States through the most intensive screening process with very low chances of acceptance, compared to the time it takes for any citizen from 30 European countries to get a three-month visa to the United States through the visa-waiver sharing program, which has minimal screening procedures. This is a real concern where our worries should be directed, and which the Obama administration has already begun addressing.

Since 9/11, America has resettled 900,000 refugees. Out of these 900,000, different numbers of suspected individuals with possible connections to terrorism have come out, but all sources are showing less than 12 individuals—that is a .001 percent risk. Do those odds pose enough of a risk to turn our backs on the 65,000 refugees soon to enter our country if Hillary Clinton takes office?

I don’t know about you, but knowing that and being confident in the strict vetting policy Hillary Clinton plans to continue to carry out, I would much rather welcome our new neighbors and let their plight soften our hearts and grow our compassion, than live in an exaggerated state of fear and panic filling our hearts with hatred and bitterness.

One lesson I have learned in observing America’s reactions from afar is that fear of the unknown and misrepresentation in the news breeds more and more fear, to the point where it becomes irrational. This fear then breeds hatred of the other and then this leads to violence.

If we do not want to bring violence onto our own soil, then we need to open our hearts. It won’t be letting Syrian refugees into our country that causes this violence many of us are so afraid of—it will be because we accepted 65,000 Syrian refugees into a country where many of its citizens have closed their hearts and minds to the Syrian’s plight. It will be because fear and hatred take over and deprive us, and the Syrians, of our compassion.

Let’s change this course now for that young couple who handed our team that wrapped wet bundle as they got off the boat, which we discovered held three beautiful newborn triplets. The soaked, shivering, and sobbing parents kissed the Greek shore beneath our feet. Let’s change this course now so Syrian families like them are welcomed to America.

Let’s take the advice of writer Iain S. Thomas, and let’s change this course now, America:

“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

To those who choose not to do so, I am sorry for the negativity you are harboring inside of you. I will say “I’m sorry” now to all my Syrian refugee friends on Facebook—males and females, young and old—who will read your hurtful words calling them terrorists here to infiltrate our society. I will apologize to them now, for they may hear these same hurtful words spoken in their soon-to-be new schools, neighborhoods, and workplaces throughout America. My friends, those words are the last thing you deserve.

I hope you will not judge America based on those few who speak of you this way; I hope you will not judge my country in the same way much of America has judged you.





Author: Katie Letheren

Image: YouTube Still

Editor: Travis May

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