Opinion: US Response to Refugees a Blow to Freedom

GENEVA – As a former refugee resettlement program director in the United States, and resettlement assessment officer in the field, it is heartbreaking to watch the xenophobic reaction against refugees and Syrian refugees in particular, in the US (and elsewhere) in the wake of last week’s attacks in Paris.

Syrian refugees are fleeing their homes, second and third countries of hope, seeking freedom; freedom from fear and freedom from hunger, among others.

These are fundamental human rights no one should have to sacrifice.

The fact that the US House of Representatives  voted last week to further restrict refugee admissions by increasing the already strenuous vetting process for refugees, is dismaying at a time when there are more people in need of international protection than ever before.

Fact: refugee admissions to the US have declined significantly since 1990 when some 120,000 refugees were admitted to the country and when the US Refugee Program represented the gold standard, at least in the number of individuals it sought to assist on an annual basis.

Less than 70,000 refugees entered the US in 2014.

The torch of freedom was severely wetted down following the 9/11 attacks when a similar political backlash reduced refugee admissions to under 30,000 individuals.

Another fact: nearly all of the September 11 terrorists entered the country on business or tourist visas.

There has never been any coherent logic in responding to terrorism by shutting the door on those fleeing terror.

In what may be one of Joe Biden’s finest interview moments, he told the press on 19 November, “When you change your core values in response to fear, the terrorists have won.”


At heart, we are all seeking the same thing: freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Why is it then that those most in need of protection are being ignored in this time of acute need for strong voices to stand up for them?

As many fine articles over the past 48 hours have detailed – see The Guardian, and Irin News  among others – this is not a new phenomenon, but one which the US and other publics have not learned from.

WWII refugees were also systematically ignored until the reality was too stark for the world to close its eyes.

Providing a safe haven for victims of human rights abuses is imperative not only because others’ lives are in the balance, but because erosion of freedom affects us all.

When we allow fearmongering and isolationism to dictate national security policies, we are ceding ground in upholding those same freedoms that are inherent to all human beings be it in Syria, France, or the United States.

(Photo courtesy Freedom House, AP/Santi Palacios)

Editor’s Note: Jared has worked for US-based Catholic Charities, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Catholic Migration Commission, the International Organization for Migrations, InterPeace, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the International Development Law Organization.

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