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Refugee Crisis Needs an Extraordinary Response

Apr 23, 2015

Blog Post

Mark Hetfield - President and CEO

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is urging the West to do more to alleviate the largest refugee crisis since World War II. Refugees, frustrated with their inability to find protection and with neighboring countries already filling up, are risking (and losing) their lives in fleeing by boat.

HIAS agrees. These are extraordinary times, and the West needs an extraordinary response. Instead, the United States and others are operating as if it is "business as usual," not even increasing our refugee resettlement ceiling to address the biggest refugee problem in seventy years.

The number of displaced is reminiscent of WWII, as is the inadequate response, particularly for Syrians. The Obama Administration is already meeting the demand of members of Congress to slow down the processing of Syrian refugees so that, as the Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee was quoted as saying on April 18 in The New York Times, to "put our foot on the brakes until we have more certainty that terrorists won't slip through our fingers.”

In 1940, some genuinely regarded German Jews as a threat to US security. Assistant Secretary of State Beckenridge Long instructed: “We can delay and effectively stop for a temporary period of indefinite length the number of (refugees). We could do this by simply advising our consuls to put every obstacle in the way and to require additional evidence and to resort to various administrative devices which would postpone and postpone and postpone the granting of the visas.”

We must offer many more refugees protection, and we must screen for security, but let’s not confuse those who flee persecution with their persecutors. I thought we learned that lesson already.