Refugee Report: Week One

St. Jane Media is starting a journalistic research series looking into the refugee crisis. This first week is a report from November 21, 2015 and provides a background for the current debate surrounding admittance of refugees from the Syrian civil war. 

by Christian M. Patterson

Middle Eastern refugees, especially Syrians, have been fleeing to Western and Northern Europe to seek asylum. However, this has provoked a rise in European nationalist sentiment  that resources are being exhausted to take care of these refugees. This European resistance has increased substantially since the Paris terrorist attacks. Although right-leaning Western Europeans are becoming less receptive to refugees, their countries continue to accept them.  However, in response to the Paris terrorist attacks, several Balkan states have begun blocking  off some refugees causing massive build-ups along Europe’s ‘refugee’ corridor.

Meanwhile, countries near Syria—especially Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey—have been much more willing to welcome Syrian refugees. However, this has already put strain on their infrastructure, and more strain is likely to come from increasing European resistance. Not only that, but the Obama administration has advocated for America accepting more refugees. The U.S. has been more resistant to this than most countries, citing—like Western Europe—concerns about terrorist attacks if Syrians are let in. The overall consensus is that terrorist attacks have little correlation to refugees, but after a fake Syrian ID was found near the body of a terrorist, people feel alarmed.

A Syrian passport was found near the body of one of the assailants of the Paris attack. The Washington Post writes, ‘It bore the name of a Syrian national who apparently transited through Greece in early October.’ This may be one of the biggest arguments that both Europeans and Americans have against accepting Syrian refugees. However, ‘authorities in multiple countries’ believe the passport is fake.

The passport’s identity is ‘“Ahmad Almohammad," a 25-year-old Syrian.’ The problem is the person on the passport is real, but he was a Loyalist soldier of al-Assad and died this year. Not only that, but the Tuesday after the Paris terrorist attacks, Serbian officials arrested a refugee with an identical passport. It’s not clear if they have any relation, aside from getting the fake passport by the same process. Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maiziere claims, ‘The fake passport found at the bombing site could have been part of an Islamic State attempt to create a "false trail.”’ Another issue is that although Daesh had a part in the terrorist attacks, ‘all the identified assailants are so far citizens of European Union countries.’

Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the State Department, announced that the US State Department advocates accepting refugees. Its main argument is, ‘only two percent of refugees leaving Syria are single males of fighting age, while the majority of refugees are children and adults.’ The article then goes on to say ‘The majority of refugees are children and adults.’ The inclusion of ‘adults’ into this statement implies that (a) most ISIS affiliated terrorists are teenagers, (b) most male, Syrian adults are married, considering they specify ‘single’ in the original statement and (c) most married Syrian adult men are not considered a terrorist threat. Toner then makes an appeal to pathos by arguing, ‘The vast majority of these refugees are victims of the very same crimes we saw in Paris, and have been living with a level of violence and suffering that is incomprehensible to us.’

This highlights the fact that Syria experiences terrorist attacks on par with the Paris attack. These attacks get much less exposure than the Paris attack.

Syrian refugees feel increasingly concerned after the Paris terrorist attack. After fleeing Syria, they thought they would not have to deal with terrorist attacks any longer. But now, the fear of a terrorist attack is still there, as well as the new problem of them being more ‘likely to be viewed with greater suspicion, making it more difficult to settle into the communities they had hoped to join.’ However, even before the terrorist attacks, Europeans were becoming increasingly skeptical of refugees.

The New York Times writes ‘Nationalist and populist parties are on the rise, and new governments are being swept into office on the power of anti-immigrant talk.’ Sweden is closing its borders, as well as Slovenia, which is ‘a crucial point in the Balkans-to-Northern Europe migration trail’. Germany, ‘which has been among the most welcoming destinations for the migrants’, has seen an increase in anti-refugee fueled violence and arson as well. President François Hollande remains committed to allowing 30,000 migrants from Syria and Iraq to enter the country, while ensuring ‘asylum seekers would be checked to make sure that none posed a threat.’

With the French terrorist attack, there’s an increasing amount of resistance to accepting Syrian refugees. However, this could cause a lot of problems for Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, who have already taken in massive chunks of the Syrian refugees. NPR writes, ‘Turkey is hosting nearly 2 million officially registered Syrian refugees. Lebanon has taken in 1.2 million. Jordan is housing more than 600,000.’ Brian Hansford, a spokesman for the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Refugees, says, ‘One in four people in Lebanon now is a refugee. The infrastructure to deal with this influx is now pushed to its breaking point.’

The influx of Syrian refugees has caused working wages to lower and housing costs to rise. With the stress placed on middle eastern countries hosting refugees, the U.N. strongly urges non-middle eastern countries to accept refugees. With 7.6 million displaced people in Syria, they have to go somewhere and ’Hansford says the world has a legal obligation, under the U.N. Convention and Protocol on Refugees’ Regardless of this legal obligation, there’s strong resistance in the U.S. to accepting immigrants. NPR writes that Rand Paul introduced legislation that ‘could block plans for the U.S. to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year,’ citing a need for a ‘more vigorous screening for refugees.’

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed Republican-backed legislation to block Obama’s program that would allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States. This was despite Obama’s threat to veto this legislation. The vote passed 289 to 137, with 47 of the 188 Democrats in the House voting in favor, and against the Obama Administration. Reuters writes that this legislation ‘would mandate that high-level officials - the FBI director, the director of national intelligence and homeland security secretary - verify that each Syrian refugee poses no security risk.’ Loretta Lynch, Obama's attorney general, said these screenings would be ‘both impractical and impossible.’ With the implication being this legislation is disguised as stricter regulation, but would be such a strain on the system that very few immigrants could make it through. The bill would create the strictest rules ever placed on the U.S. screening refugees, and since it passed with a two-third majority, it reached the threshold to override Obama’s veto ability. If the (also Republican majority) Senate passes the legislation with a two-third majority as well, Obama will be unable to stop it.

However, according to Reuters, ‘Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said there is "no way" the House bill would pass in the Senate.’ Obama spoke in Manila on refugees and called them ‘part of the fabric of American life.’ Obama argued that ‘refugees already face the most vigorous vetting process the United States uses for anyone admitted to the country,’ and that ‘the idea that somehow they pose a more significant threat than all the tourists who pour into the United States every single day just doesn't jibe with reality.’ To illustrate the division of positions on the issue, potential Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson described refugees as ‘a rabid dog running around your neighborhood.’ On the other hand, as Reuters writes, ‘Some Democrats touted a different approach, promising legislation in the Senate to tighten a visa waiver program that intelligence experts say can be exploited by Islamic State militants or others planning U.S. attacks.’

The New York Times writes, ‘Most nations along Europe's refugee corridor abruptly shut their borders Thursday,’ unless those refugees were coming from ‘war-torn countries such as Syria, Afghanistan or Iraq’ The four countries referred to as the ‘refugee corridor’ are Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia, the four main countries travelled through to get from Greece and Turkey to Central and Western Europe.

These four countries weren’t allowing what they call ‘economic immigrants,’ so they must have a Syrian, Iraqi, or Afghani ID (for Croatia, Palestinian ID is also acceptable). Many refugees from these countries were being turned away due to a lack of proper identification. Due to these increased regulations, the border between Macedonia and Greece was temporarily shut down to anyone.

This will cause a tremendous build up of asylum seekers in the Balkans from getting to Germany and other wealthier European countries. While the majority of the refugees are Syrian, thousands are ‘Pakistanis, Bangladeshis or Sri Lankans’.

The NYT writes, ‘Serbian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin blamed EU-members Slovenia and Croatia for the ban,’ arguing that Croatia and Slovenia’s decision left Serbian security in a bind, if they did not implement similar restrictions. Slovenia was the first country to implement these restrictions, which triggered a chain reaction.