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Please Don't Turn Away Refugees, America. It's Not American

30/11/2015 9:07 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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A young mother crosses the border from Syria and becomes a refugee. She carries her one-month-old son, Hamid. “Since he was born there has been non-stop bombing every day.” UNHCR / S. Rich / April 2013

In the previews for Will Smith's new movie Concussion, which is out in US theatres now, I was blown away by one scene.

Smith, who plays a Nigerian immigrant, tells someone, "When I was a child, I thought heaven was here (he lifts his right hand high) and I thought America was here (he moves his hand down a few notches).

I found myself nodding and agreeing with this sentiment. The Unites States has always been a crusader in human rights and has been a country which has shown compassion in accepting and granting rights to many illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. It is a just and fair nation with laws that guarantee equality for all.

This is a country built by immigrants and even after 25 years here, I still idealise the famous inscription on The Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

"Please don't shut the doors on these people who are running away from violence, begging for shelter. It's cruel. It's wrong. It's inhumane. And it's not American."

But since the 13 November terror attacks in Paris by Islamist extremists, which killed some 130 people, a majority of people in America have rejected the idea of admitting refugees from Syria, a national poll by Bloomberg Politics shows.

Fifty three percent of American adults in the survey, which was done immediately after the Paris attacks, say that the nation should not continue a program to resettle up to 10,000 Syrian refugees.

Last Thursday, Congress passed a bill that would suspend the program that allowed Syrian and Iraqi refugees into the US until key national security agencies confirm they are not a security risk. As CNN reported, "The vote was 289-137, with 47 Democrats joining 242 Republicans in favour of the bill, creating a majority that could override President Barack Obama's promised veto."

The high number of Democrats voting shows that not only do they refuse to stand with Obama but that they are also unwilling to risk isolating a public that is increasingly hardening its stance on accepting refugees after the ISIS terrorist attacks on Paris.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination said that he will order the "surveillance of certain mosques" to combat terrorism and that he seeks a database of all Syrian refugees, reported The New York Times.

I am saddened and disappointed at this rhetoric that attacks the most vulnerable of all in the world -- poor, frightened refugees who have no options.

History is rife with lessons, such as when America turned away the St Louis, a ship full of Jewish refugees, many of whom were later killed in the Holocaust. During the Pearl Harbor phase, America cruelly interned Japanese Americans, which they later admitted was a mistake.

How can the greatest country in the world adopt this stance? It's politically incorrect, it's morally wrong and it's ethically inappropriate.

This anti-refugee propaganda is feeding off the fear that terrorists will sneak in with the refugees and there will be fresh attacks on American soil. I don't blame people for being paranoid and I agree that national security is a legitimate issue. But the refugees are very carefully screened and it's extremely unlikely that a terrorist would seek this path to enter the country.

And I am using data to support my argument: After 9/11 the United States has resettled 784,000 refugees and only three of them have been arrested for planning terrorist acts and here I should add only one of these had plans against America and they were not even very clear, according to a report by the Migration Policy Institute.

If we allow politicians to sway us into believing that refugees are the enemy, we will lose our position as the greatest nation in the world which shelters the poor and the oppressed.

I concede that America needs to be careful about whom they allow into the country but I believe that the importance of security can be balanced with kindness and understanding.

Please don't shut the doors on these people who are running away from violence with their belongings on their back, begging for shelter.

It's cruel. It's wrong. It's inhumane. And it's not American.

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