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Open Your Hearts, America

More Syrian refugees are likely to be on the way

by Katie Letheren

fence-978138__340According 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, West Africa, 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.

Syrian refugees

Syrian refugee family

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, America, 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.

Syrian refugee children

Syrian refugee children at a clothing donation fair

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 very minimal screening procedures. This is a real concern where our worries should be directed, and which the Obama administration has already begun addressing.

refugees-992867__340Since 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% 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.

syria-1202174__340One 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 naturally from the other, which together almost always leads to violence.

If we do not want to bring violence onto our own soil, then America 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.

man-1304423__340Let’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.

katie-and-hadiKatie Letheren (pictured here with Syrian friend Hadi Ai) is a Shambhala Buddhist American international aid worker currently working in the global health field in Liberia, West Africa. Born and raised in Manchester, New Hampshire, Katie attended New York University for her undergraduate degree in Political Science with a strong focus in journalism and the Middle East, and later attended Harvard School of Public Health’s Global Health Delivery Intensive program. Since then she has been bopping around the world with a cause – always letting the world’s events and the suffering it causes soften her heart, however painful that may be.

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4 responses to “ Open Your Hearts, America ”
  1. Barbara Lynn
    Nov 8, 2016

    Katie, thank you very much for stating so eloquently the need for us to open our hearts and country to Syrians. I am forwarding your article to my friends and family. Thank you for shining your light on this subject. With gratitude and appreciation, Barbara

  2. Julia Creighton
    Nov 3, 2016

    The rewards of supporting the resettlement of two Syrian families in rural Nova Scotia well outweigh the challenges. When immigration policies adjust under the new Clinton administration, I recommend working with the Baptist Refugee Ministry. They have the infrastructure and experience, and are skilled leaders in compassionate action. Keep up this reporting, Katie. And happy bopping!

  3. Linda V. Lewis
    Nov 3, 2016

    Thanks you for your first-hand, knowledgeable article. Canada is accepting another 300,000 immigrants in 2017, sustaining the highest immigration level since 1913, but the majority will be economic migrants and those reuniting with their families in Canada. Only 40,000 will actually be refugees. Yes, the USA needs to step up, but so does Australia and the rest of the world. Paranoia is not the answer. “Generosity is the virtue that fosters peace.”

  4. Craig Adams
    Oct 31, 2016

    Thank you Katie for your challenging message—a good message for anyone, anywhere to contemplate and embody in action!

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