The Case of the Syrian Refugees in the Bay Area

Listen to AROC staff attorney, Lina Baroudi, on KPFA discussing the case of the Syrian refugees as it relates to recent political developments.

The Case of Syrian Refugees

By Lina Baroudi

What are the conditions that Syrian refugees are facing?

As of yesterday, over twenty U.S. state governors have announced that they will oppose the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states. Putting aside the unconstitutionality of these proposed policies, these state leaders’ sentiments are indicative of the ignorance and scapegoating so prevalent in this country. The world has finally turned its eyes to Syria, but the more than 4 million Syrian refugees did not come into existence until last week.

Since March 2011, individuals and families have been fleeing Syria to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, where they are waiting to be processed for resettlement in a third country. While in limbo, they are separated from their families and many are living without running water, electricity, medical and mental health services. I think, by now, everyone is familiar with the image of Aylan Kurdi, the young Syrian refugee who died in the Mediterranean Sea trying to leave Turkey with his family. There are hundreds of thousands of Aylans in what the UN has called the largest humanitarian crisis of our era.

What process do they have to go through?

The screening process for refugees, and specifically Syrian refugees, involves the most intensive security background check of anyone seeking admission into the U.S.

  1. Registration and interviews with UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), undergo security checks using biodata, biometrics, iris scan
  2. Referral to U.S. for resettlement
  3. Interview by the U.S. DOS’s Resettlement Support Center; obtain security clearance by DHS
  4. Vetted against databases of Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, the FBI, and the National Counterterrorism Center
  5. Syrian refugees undergo another background check by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
  6. Matched with a U.S.-based resettlement agency
  7. Undergo additional checks by CBP and TSA

How long does it take?

The average time is 18-24 months

What support do they have after they get refugee status?

Once refugees arrive here, there are refugee resettlement organizations which initially place them with a host family, then find them their own apartments, and assist them in finding employment, medical services and enrolling the children in school. After that, they are more or less on their own. And even during that process, they are often placed in areas they are completely unfamiliar with, alienated from community and at the will of placement agencies.

Out of the 4.1 million registered Syrian refugees, the U.S. has accepted just over two thousand since 2011. But what we should also take note of are the several thousand Syrian immigrants who have fled Syria in recent years. Even though they have not been designated as refugees, we should understand the condition of the Syrian people to include forced migrants, refugees, displaced people and those in diaspora who have suffered the pain of their family and community. Most of the recent migrants from Syria faced extreme violence prior to their arrival here; violence supported and funded by the U.S. They were fortunate enough to flee before being forced into refugee camps. However, their families are those same people languishing in camps.

What have been the recent shifts in US domestic policy?

In September, President Obama announced that the U.S. will take an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees. In response to the events of last week, the House Republicans are expected to pass legislation today to freeze and overhaul the refugee admission process, specifically in regards to Syrians and Iraqis. We have a Virginia mayor commending the use of internment camps for Japanese-Americans as a rationale for keeping Syrian refugees out of his city. We’re seeing the same kind of backlash against Arabs and Muslims as we did in 2001.

The irony, again, is that the U.S. does not take responsibility for its actions in the Arab world and its role in the Syrian refugee crisis, whether it’s through propping up dictators, fueling sectarian violence or creating and sustaining extremist groups.

The bottom line is what is happening in Syria is a tragedy. No matter what we call it, the result is the same: civilian deaths, families torn apart, the creation of millions of new refugees, and the re-traumatization of Palestinian refugees who were living in Syria. 

How does the US compare to other countries?

There is no comparison at all. Germany and Sweden have been the most welcoming countries to Syrian refugees and asylum seekers, and France has just recommitted itself to accepting 30,000 more Syrian refugees.

Meanwhile, the hypocrisy in U.S. immigration policy is that while stigmatizing the less than one percent of Syrian refugees this country has accepted, the U.S. has in place other mechanisms – asylum and temporary protected status – to afford legal status to the thousands of Syrians already living in this country. What we should be comparing is the role that the U.S. has played in creating the crisis in the Arab world; the role it has played in funding, arming and inciting the violence that Syrians are fleeing from. While the U.S. funded ISIS, propped up dictators, and armed racist states like Israel, it turns a blind eye to the impact its policies and practices have had on those it considers non-Western. Take, for instance, the attention we have seen on Paris; all the while the Syrians and Lebanese who have been devastated by ISIS have been ignored. And then when those same people seek refuge from the destruction that the U.S. has a direct role in, they are criminalized and demonized and accused of the same violence they are fleeing.

People all over the world are outraged at what they are witnessing. They are outraged at U.S. foreign policy and they know all too well that those at the receiving end of it, are the ones that fall victim to the racism and fear mongering that results.

We at AROC are working tirelessly to meet the growing needs of the forced migrants from the U.S. by providing immigration services. But there needs to be a radical shift in how the U.S. relates to the world. Otherwise, the Syrian crisis we see today will be reproduced in other parts of the world. Just as it has over decades, from Latin America to Africa.