Terror attacks push refugees to center of debate

Some leaders call for a halt to allowing Syrian refugees in the U.S.; others say it’s an overreaction.

Gov. John Kasich on Monday said Ohio will not take in any Syrian refugees after the revelation that at least one of the terrorists who attacked Paris last week may have posed as an asylum-seeker.

Kasich and governors from nearly 20 other states declared they will not accept refugees from Syria because of the security risks involved.

Bloodshed in Syria has created a “humanitarian catastrophe” that will deepen if the horrific attacks in Paris result in Western nations sealing their borders to migrants and turning their backs on the suffering of huge numbers of people, said Mark Ensalaco, director of research at the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center.

“The tragedy of an overreaction on our part would be great — it would be the end of a Europe that Europeans themselves have struggled so hard to build,” he said.

The United States has admitted 2,060 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the civil war there in 2011 through Oct. 31, according to the U.S. State Department.

Some Republican elected leaders said vetting of asylum-seekers is inadequate and creates opportunities for violent militants to sneak in to the country.

Also on Monday, U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, sent a letter to Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley demanding she rescind her invitation to the Obama administration to relocate Syrian families and individuals to the Dayton area.

Turner said the Paris attacks demonstrate the weakness in the screening process of refugees, which could put the Dayton region and United States in danger.

“While Dayton is a welcoming city, we must prioritize the safety and security of our community in the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris, France,” Turner said in a statement.

Whaley said in a statement it is imperative that the Department of Homeland Security “provide security guarantees” to Dayton and other communities that host refugees.

Dayton Commissioner Matt Joseph said refugees go through an extensive screening process that often takes years to complete to ensure proper identification.

He said Dayton remains committed to accepting refugees to help address a massive humanitarian crisis.

“Caution is called for, and we should take every precaution we can, but that probably doesn’t mean we should ignore the humanitarian emergency that’s happening and all the people who do need help legitimately,” he said.

In Springfield, Mayor Warren Copeland said the city has not discussed allowing Syrian refugees to relocate there.

Copeland doesn’t believe Springfield has a choice either way.

“We’re subject to the state and federal law,” he said. “We haven’t talked about it.”

It would be irresponsible not to perform extensive background checks on anyone entering Ohio from Syria, Copeland said. At the same time, Copeland said it’s wrong to assume all Syrians can’t be trusted.

“All you have to do is watch TV and see these folks with kids in little boats to know that there’s got to be a bunch of those folks who aren’t going to be in issue in the long run,” Copeland said.

Some foreign policy experts said the millions fleeing brutal atrocities in Syria are themselves the first victims of the same Islamic state actors responsible for the Paris attacks.

On Friday, terrorists used automatic weapons and explosives to kill more than 120 people and injure many others in several locations in Paris.

Media reports indicate a Syrian passport was found near one of the dead bombers, suggesting he may have entered Europe while posing as a refugee.

A couple months ago, President Barack Obama announced plans for the United States to admit 10,000 more Syrian refugees in the next fiscal year.

But in the wake of the attacks, governors in Alabama, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas said they would refuse to accept Syrian refugees in order to protect the safety of their residents.

Kasich told the Fox Business network on Monday that Ohio will not take in any Syrian refugees for security reasons.

“There is no way that we can put any of our people at risk,” he said. “Should anybody come in here before the end of the year? The answer to that should be no. We should not jeopardize our people. And so it’s not just an issue of the heart. It’s also an issue of the head.”

Jim Lynch, a spokesman for Kasich, said the governor will call on Obama stop allowing the refugees into the country. “The governor is writing to the President to ask him to stop, and to ask him to stop resettling them in Ohio. We are also looking at what additional steps Ohio can take to stop resettlement of these refugees.”

On Monday, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, also expressed concerns about security.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, I have been raising my deep concerns about taking Syrian refugees because of our government’s inability to properly check their backgrounds to know who they are and why they are coming,” Portman said.

In September, Dayton’s Whaley and 17 other U.S. mayors sent Obama a letter urging his administration to increase the number of Syrian asylum-seekers America will accept.

The mayors offered to assist Obama by making room for refugees in their communities.

Whaley said Monday the city of Dayton does not have a role in the resettlement of refugees, and the decision about where to place them comes from the federal government.

But she said Dayton is a welcoming community that will support refugees from all countries.

In a Sept. 29 letter to the President, Rep. Turner sharply criticized the mayor’s offer to accept refugees, saying she did not speak for the local community.

As many as 12 million Syrians have fled their homes since the start of a civil war in 2011. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than four million have made their way to neighboring countries including Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Millions more of the displaced are living in other areas of Syria.

More than 680,000 Syrians have sought asylum in Europe between April 2011 and the end of last month. As of Oct. 7, the High Commission for Refugees had submitted nearly 20,000 Syrian refugees to the United States for resettlement, according to the U.N.

In September, the United States agreed to spend another $419 million in additional humanitarian assistance, bringing the total to more than $4.5 billion, according to United States Agency for International Development.

Germany’s “open door” policy has attracted the most Syrian asylum seekers. Officials there expected to receive more than 800,000 refugees from Syria and other countries by the end of the year. But that door appears to be closing as German Chancellor Angela Merkel faces growing pressure to limit the number of asylum seekers.

“We know that our life of freedom is stronger than terror,” Merkel said in a speech after the Paris attacks. “Let us answer the terrorists by living our values with courage.”

Merkel has been at the forefront of welcoming immigrants, said Donna Schlagheck, professor emeritus and former chair of the Political Science Department at Wright State University, but the attack clearly produced a backlash by some against the entirety of Islam.

“I hope (Merkel’s) right. But immediately the public reaction is just as it was on 9/11.” Schlagheck said. “Every Muslim in every western country at this point must be feeling incredibly insecure. Ninety-nine percent of those people will be peaceful and law-abiding. They will suffer, too.”

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