Missourians respond to Syrian refugee crisis and resettlement
MISSOURI – KOMU 8 News put out a survey to see how Missourians feel about the the resettlement of Syrian refugees, and talked to four respondents to get a closer look at their differing opinions.
Right now, there are no Syrian refugees living in mid-Missouri, but Gov. Jay Nixon has said he would not interfere with federal policy, which allows relocation.
President Obama's recent comments about accepting Syrian refugees has sparked a debate throughout America.
He wants his administration to prepare to accept at least 10,000 Syrians in 2016.
54 percent of those responding to KOMU 8 News' question said states should fight the federal policy, but 37 said refugees should be allowed to resettle.
Mary Miller, who lives in Chillicothe, said she feels a close connection to the refugee crisis.
“I have children,” Miller said. “So I always feel like a close personal connection to things that impact us on a humanistic level.”
Miller said she thinks the United States should welcome refugees.
“Well I think, if we really want to be honest with our history everybody in this country, unless you're Native American, we're all immigrants,” Miller said. “We all came here, all of our ancestors came here seeking refuge from something, be it political unrest, searching for religious freedom, searching for the ability to live life the way they wanted. That's the reason why this country is what it is today. That's the whole point and purpose.”
Steven Fletcher, from Moberly, said allowing Syrian refugees into the United States is risky.
“As a human, I feel bad for the Syrian refugees,” Fletcher said. “What they're going through over there is terrible, but as an American, I do not want them here just because of the world climate that we live in, it's very dangerous.”
Ronnie Finnell, from Fulton, agrees, saying states should fight to keep Syrian refugees out because of the liklihood terrorists could be among them.
“They want to kill Americans and the American ways,” Finnell said. “The Syrian refugees is just a big avenue for them.”
Columbia resident Jothi Pallikkathayil said the Islamic State wants Americans to fear Syrian refugees.
“Their goal is to incite terror and an apocalyptic war between, not just religions, but entire cultures,” Pallikkathayil said. “Their goal is to scare us into not taking refugees, and if our reaction is any indication of it, it seems like we're playing right into their little game.”
Miller said if Americans are fearful it will hurt the refugees.
“By doing that, they can point at us and say, 'Look, they hate you. They don't want to help you. They don't want anything to do with you. They think all Muslims are bad. They think our religion is bad,'” Miller said.”
Pallikkathayil said, “If we allow our fear to grow past our compassion and courage to do the right thing despite the risks, then the terrorists win.”
Although Fletcher and Finnell do not think Syrian refugees should come to the U.S., they both said America should render a different type of aid.
“I'm not saying we shouldn't be humanitarian,” Fletcher said. “We should help. They're Muslims. I think a Muslim country would be more apt for them. They would probably get along better in a Muslim country than a Christian nation. Why we can't put them in a Muslim country such as Pakistan, India or anywhere in Africa and fund them with shelter, food, clothing, why we can't use our money to help out, I don't understand why we have to, per se, open up our borders.”
Finnell said, “From a Christian standpoint, we need to help. I don't think they need to be here because we can't actually vet them.”
Finnell said if the federal government allows Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S., it would be difficult to regulate who wants to cause harm and who doesn’t.
“We can't determine whether they are a threat, not a threat,” Finnell said. “I think the best solution is to keep them in Muslim countries or Islamic countries. If there's 10,000 refugees, it only takes one to kill hundreds,” Finnell said. Is it worth it?”
Miller said, although she would welcome refugees, there is always a risk.
“But to hold an entire group of people culpable because of the possibility of something happening just seems like a bad idea to me,” Miller said.
Pallikkathayil said he thinks the safety concerns some people have can be addressed.
“And the potential social and economic wins that we can reap for bringing refugees into Missouri, maybe it's worth the risk,” Pallikkathayil said.
The Refugee Act of 1980 states that “the Congress declares that it is the historic policy of the United States to respond to the urgent needs of persons subject to persecution in their homelands, including, where appropriate, humanitarian assistance for their care and maintenance in asylum areas, efforts to promote opportunities for resettlement or voluntary repatriation, aid for necessary transportation and processing, admission to this country of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the United States, and transitional assistance to refugees in the United States.”
According to the act, the term 'refugee' means:
(A) any person who is outside any country of such person’s nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
“I don't think people in America understand how difficult it actually is to get here,” Miller said. “It's not like they load these people up on a boat, bring them to America and set them loose. I mean it's a year, a one to two year process.”
The White House has a breakdown of what steps the United States takes when screening refugees who are looking for asylum.
Pallikkathayil said, “There are literally millions of people that are fleeing their country, their homes that they had, their lives that they have established, because they are terrified about whether they'll live or die the next day if they stay.”
Miller said, “Nobody wakes up one day and says, 'I'm going to give up my house, my home, everything I own, put my family at risk, and we're going to go somewhere else hundreds of miles away, thousands of miles away. There's a legitimate reason that these people are fleeing for their lives. And the only thing they have to hold onto is that somebody out there cares.”
Fletcher said, “I would say the vast majority of us are, 'No, we don't want them,' but ultimately we're going to help out. That's just what's great about being an American.”
Miller said her life has no more value that anyone else’s.
“We're all equal,” Miller said. “You have to be empathetic because if you start viewing people as statistics, then the bad guys have already won.”
So far 31 state governors, and 18 Missouri state senators have said they do not want Syrian refugees in their state, but Nixon has not said whether he’d block Syrian refugees from settling in Missouri.
Nixon said safety is his highest priority and he will look to federal authorities to put in “the strongest possible safeguards to protect the state and nation.”
KOMU 8 News reached out to viewers through a non-scientific survey to get their opinion on the matter. Below are charts that show how 1,043 respondents feel about differing topics in regards to the Syrian refugee crisis.
States should fight Syrian settlement 54%
Leave the matter to the federal government 37%
If the U.S. allows Syrian refugees…
It’s a threat to national security 53%
A small number may wish to do harm, but allow them 23%
There is no threat 20%
17 or younger: 8 people
18-24 69 people
25-34 197 people
35-44 208 people
45-54 223 people
55-64 192 people
65 or older 123 people
Race or Ethnic Origin:
Black or African American 2%
Native American or Indian American 2%
Asian or Pacific Islander 1%