Refugees are LESS Likely to Be Terrorists, and Xenophobia Hurts Democracy

, Deputy director, Center for Science & Democracy | November 18, 2015, 10:16 am EST
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Muhammad Rashid was educated as an analytical chemist in Aleppo, Syria. He was sent abroad to China to earn a Ph.D. When the Syrian civil war broke out, his brother deserted the Syrian army, and as a result, Rashid couldn’t return. The German government welcomed him and his two small children with open arms.

The United States became a great country because it embraced people from all over the world. We are a land of immigrants. Many of our nation’s greatest scientists were foreign-born. Before they came to our country, they were students, doctors, and pharmacists. With them came children and supportive spouses. They built their lives here, contributed their talents, settled into communities, and grew our nation.

Syrian children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan.

Syrian children in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. Resettled refugees are more likely to assimilate, while those in refugee camps are more likely to radicalize. Photo: Oxfam International

The European Union recently launched a program to connect scientist refugees with research jobs. Several universities have already expressed interest in the program. The Max Planck Society and Fraunhofer Society are partnering with German states on an initiative to integrate refugees into science. In Great Britain, the Council for At-Risk Academics (CARA) is assisting vulnerable Syrian scientists. In the 1930s, CARA helped Jewish academics who were persecuted by the Nazis find a new life in the UK.

It’s tragic and embarrassing to see so many American leaders heading in the opposite direction, with many governors, members of Congress, and presidential candidates scoring political points by declaring that Syrian refugees are not welcome in their states, or that Christians should be accepted but Muslims turned away.

We don’t have to sacrifice security for doing our global duty. In the United States, which so far has committed to accepting way, way fewer Syrian refugees than our European counterparts, it is incumbent upon the refugee to prove his or her eligibility for asylum. This is no easy process, especially after September 11. As a result, refugees are actually less likely to commit terrorist acts than people born on American soil. Resettled refugees are more likely to assimilate, while those in refugee camps are more likely to radicalize.

Of the two million refugees taken in by the United States since 1990, none have committed a recorded act of terrorism. Not one. Since 2009, only a handful of refugees have been arrested for terrorism-related charges. Homegrown terrorism, meanwhile, rages on.

The decision on whether and on what conditions to accept refugees is a policy one. But that decision should take into account evidence, and not be based on bombast or uninformed fear. The exclusion of an entire group of people based on religion or ethnicity or national origin cannot be justified by the evidence, is both morally disgraceful and un-American, and ultimately plays into the hands of ISIS. This approach has not served the United States well in the past, and will leave a stain on our collective conscience should we continue down this road today.

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