Since 2015, I have worked with refugees here in Salt Lake City. It has been one of the most rewarding causes I have been a part of. In November 2015, the tragic bombings occurred in Paris and the conversation surrounding refugees became one of the most popular topics of debate. The last election period has continued this debate, with many different opinions coming to light. Over the past year and a half, I have seen an incredible amount of false information surface about refugees in America. Through my own research and volunteer work, I’m here to set the record straight.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that refugees are terrorists’ or ISIS’s way of getting a “Trojan Horse” into America. This could not be more incorrect. In the history of America, not a single refugee has ever committed a terrorist act on American soil (unless you include European refugees who slaughtered people for land). Refugees are not immigrants. Many people have confused immigrants who have committed acts of terrorism, i.e. San Bernardino (who were United Statess citizens), with refugees. The process for obtaining refugee status differs completely from any other type of entry into America.
Refugees who are accepted into America are the most vetted people coming into our country through the selection by the U.N. and by our government. Thorough checks are conducted by the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. For Syrians, there’s an extra check. When trying to reach another country for safety, refugees stay on lists that can lead to years of waiting. One percent are chosen to come to America. Otherwise, they choose other alternatives.
At least 30 U.S. governors have said they don’t want Syrian refugees to come to their states. Utah not only welcomes refugees, but over the years has resettled 60,000 people seeking help and a new home. Utah has one of the top programs for refugees in the country. We don’t just bring refugees to our state and say, “good luck.” We have programs that help them get work, obtain an education, learn the area and laws etc. Because of this they become great contributors to our state economically and culturally through which they can potentially give us a new perspective on life. These programs have helped millions of peoples’ lives become better; I know this since I have worked in them. America takes in refugees from around the world, but the news and media create unnecessary fear of bringing in Middle Eastern refugees, which is just an irrational display of ignorance and intolerance.
The same ignorance can extend to other areas of the world, like Africa. I work with a Congolese family here in Salt Lake City. The mother is one of the kindest and most selfless people I have ever met. She and her children stayed in a refugee camp for many years before being able to come to Utah. Her husband had to stay behind while his family fled. Being a refugee isn’t about trying to sneak into America. It’s about leaving a home that’s full of war. It’s about escape and survival. I can’t imagine how Americans would handle it if they were in a situation of having to flee for their lives to another country. We are lucky, even spoiled. In return, we should not only support refugees, but graciously welcome them into our country. I love serving this wonderful Congolese family. They have taught me so much about humility and love. We should all want to learn more.
The Utah Refugee Education & Training Center gives an estimate of 20 million refugees from around the world who moved out of their country to escape persecution in their homeland. Most refugees are women and children. Half of them are under 18. Volunteering with refugees has been one of the greatest services I have ever been involved with. I understand fear has been created. But knowledge is power. Learning about and volunteering with refugees can not only help these wonderful people in need, but it can create an environment of education and love. I understand fear. But what some don’t realize is that their fear doesn’t stem from refugees, but from not being properly educated about these people in need.