Friends of Refugees

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Austin to pay for resettlement if Texas state government illegally withholds funds

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 27, 2015


If the Republican-controlled Texas state government decides to illegally withholds funds from Syrian refugees the Austin city government plans to step in and assist the refugees. The city has been doing well financially and the city council wants to help the neediest in the community. A video report and article at KXON in Austin has the story:

AUSTIN (KXAN) —  Local refugee service organizations says if Gov. Greg Abbott doesn’t want to pay to support refugees, somebody else will…

Austin City Council-member Greg Casar says he will do all he can to have the city step up and shoulder the burden if need be. On the other side of the debate, Council-member Don Zimmerman says he doesn’t want tax money to help resettle Syrian refugees. In response, Casar says he will make sure Zimmerman’s resolution does not pass… Read more here

Posted in Austin, Caritas of Austin, Refugee Services of Texas, Syrian, Texas | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Unaccompanied Syrian Refugee Men Excluded From Canada

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 26, 2015


Canada has altered its plan to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees before year’s and now will not include unaccompanied men (Canadian officials object to the word “exclude”). Canada will also need more time than before the end of the year to resettle all 25,000 refugees. The decision to accept only whole families, lone women or children is a political compromise due to public concern after the Paris attacks. Opposition New Democratic party leader Thomas Mulcair, however, points out that this would exclude young man who lost both parents, persecuted gay male refugees, and widowers. Also excluded would be single male victims of torture, those from persecuted religious minorities, disabled, sick, political dissidents (opponents of President Bashar al-Assad and/or his jihadist enemy), etc. Articles in The Guardian explain further:

Canada will accept only whole families, lone women or children in its mass resettlement of Syrian refugees while unaccompanied men – considered a security risk – will be turned away.

Since the Paris attacks…a plan …to fast-track the intake of 25,000 refugees by year’s end has faced growing criticism in Canada…

Faisal Alazem, of the Syrian Canadian Council, a non-profit group in talks with the government to sponsor refugees, told Radio-Canada of the plans: “It’s a compromise.

“This is not the ideal scenario to protect vulnerable people – women and children and men too. But I think what happened in Paris has really changed the dynamic and public opinion,” he said….

Opposition New Democratic party leader Thomas Mulcair, however, warned against casting too large a safety net.

“Will a young man who lost both parents be excluded from the refugee program?” he said. “Will a gay man who is escaping persecution be excluded? Will a widower who is fleeing Daesh after having seen his family killed be excluded?” he said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State… Read more here


…An unmarried young man…may have been a dissident in Syria – an opponent of both President Bashar al-Assad and his jihadist enemy, the Islamic State. His case should be considered on its merits, rather than being dismissed at the stroke of a pen.

…by excluding young Syrian men, you risk separating them from their families. An unmarried 19-year-old is technically an adult, and as such would not be eligible for a Canadian welcome. But his parents and young siblings might still qualify…

…20-something Syrian males arguably form one of the groups that are most at risk in the areas of Syria still controlled by the regime. Since his army is shrinking, Assad is press-ganging reluctant young men into the military. But many of them neither want to fight for a man who has overseen the deaths of over 200,000 of his own citizens, nor join forces with rebel militias, many of which have troubling links to extremism.

If young men…are led to believe that they have little hope of gaining asylum through formal channels, there are two potential pitfalls. The first is that they will simply continue to walk through the Balkans to Germany, adding to the chaos at Europe’s borders. The second: they may conclude that they have no option but to pick a side in the Syrian war, worsening a conflict that many diplomats now accept can only be resolved politically…. Read more here

Posted in Canadian refugee resettlement pgrm, men, security/terrorism, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Feds to Resettlement Agencies – “States Cannot Block Syrians”

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 25, 2015


Today the federal government notified refugee resettlement agencies across the United States that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians. In a letter to state agencies the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) wrote, “States may not deny ORR-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation. Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” and that states that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.” The announcement may mean that the federal government will place Syrians in states regardless hostile statements from 30 Republican governors. An article in the Houston Chronicle tells more:

The federal government on Wednesday informed refugee resettlement agencies in Texas and across the United States that states do not have the authority to refuse to accept Syrians.

The statement, made in a letter obtained by the Houston Chronicle, marks the first time that federal refugee program officials formally have denounced statements by governors including Greg Abbott of Texas and may signal they will place Syrians here and elsewhere regardless of the governors’ wishes…. Read more here

Posted in funding, Houston, Islamic, religion, Syrian, unwelcoming communities | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The myth that the US government discriminated against Christian refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 25, 2015


Some media outlets are trying to foment the false notion that the US and UK governments have discriminated against Syrian Christian refugees. The claim is that the discrimination is “unintentional”. How do the governments “unintentionally” discriminate against Syrian Christian refugees? The assertion is that Christian refugees are avoiding UNHCR refugee camps due to persecution by Islamists and instead housing in churches and Christian houses, and not applying to the refugee program. They claim State department statistics back up this claim since only 2 per cent of Syrian refugees accepted by the US since the conflict broke out in 2011 are Christian (53 Christian refugees compared to 2130 Muslim refugees, out of a total of 2216), though Christians make up 10 percent of the Syrian population. What this ignores is that refugees can also apply for refugee status either directly through US embassies, or though US government-trained NGOs. Secondly, Sunni Muslim refugees make up the bulk of the 2216 Syrian refugees that have so far arrived in the US because they represent 74 percent of the Syrian population and have been the main targets of the Assad regime. The Syrian regime is a coalition of minority groups, including Christians, under the Shia (Alawite) Muslim Al-Assad family. This is why Sunni Muslims are disproportionately represented among Syrian refugees in the US, and not because the US government is discriminating against Christians. An article at Factcheck explains:

From 2013 though Nov. 17, the U.N. says it has referred 22,427 Syrian refugees to the U.S. for “resettlement consideration.” The U.N. could not tell us how many of the 22,427 U.N. referrals were Christian, and the State Department did not know how many Christian Syrians may have been rejected by the U.S. But we know the U.S. is drawing from a limited pool of applicants provided by the U.N. from a predominately Muslim country.

So what religion are the Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S.?

The vast majority are Sunni Muslims, who make up 2,128, or 93 percent, of the Syrian refugees in the U.S. The Sunnis are about 74 percent of the Syrian population, according to the CIA, but “they tend to support the rebels and oppose the Assad regime, and Syrian Sunnis have been subject to ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Alawite minority in recent months,” as the Washington Post reported on Oct. 18, 2012.

This explains why Sunni Muslims are disproportionately represented among Syrian refugees in the U.S., Andrew Tabler, a Middle East expert at the Washington Institute, told us in an email.

Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s regime is “made up of Alawites AND other minorities like Christians,” said Tabler, who wrote a 2011 book called “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Syria.”… Read more here

Posted in Alawites (Alawis), Christian, NGO's (Non-governmental organizations), State Department, Sunni, Syrian, UNHCR | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Exodus Refugee Immigration files suit against Indiana Governor

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 24, 2015


The refugee resettlement agency Exodus Refugee Immigration with the assistance of the ACLU has filed suit against Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the Family and Social Services Administration, claiming the state government violated the US Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in denying support for Syrian refugees. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop the governor from taking any actions to suspend, block or withhold aid from refugees or from Exodus. The governor joined 30 other governors last week in an attempt to illegally block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states; immigration be exclusively the province of the federal government. The lawsuit claims the Indiana state government has also violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin in programs receiving federal government financial assistance. An article at ABC News has the story:

A lawsuit challenging the Indiana governor’s decision to stop state agencies from helping resettle Syrian refugees alleges that the action wrongly targets the refugees based on their nationality and violates the U.S. Constitution and federal law.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed the federal lawsuit Monday night on behalf of Indianapolis-based nonprofit Exodus Refugee Immigration. It accuses Gov. Mike Pence of violating the U.S.

Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act by accepting refugees to Indiana from other countries but not from Syria.

The first-term Republican governor objected to plans for refugees to arrive in Indiana following the deadly attacks in Paris. Five days after the Nov. 13 attacks, a family that had fled war-torn Syria was diverted from Indianapolis to Connecticut when Pence ordered state agencies to halt resettlement activities… Read more here

Posted in ACLU, CWS, Exodus Refugee Immigration, Indiana, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Government Has Taken Serious Steps to Reduce Security Risks in Refugee Screening

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 23, 2015

magnifying glass and thumb print on white background. CRIME DETECTIVE THUMBPRINT MAGNIFYING GLASS FINGERPRINT FOTOLIA

Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner recently called the refugee security screening process, “the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States.” In fact, the refugee program is the toughest way for any foreigner to enter the US Legally. Applicants go though a laborious process that includes investigations by the National Counterterrorism Center, the Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. These agencies use biographical and biometric information about applicants to conduct a background check, including fingerprinting and retina scans (and matched against criminal databases), photographs taken, identification of family trees, and other background information over a period that lasts on average 18-24 months (and up to three years). Biographical information such as past visa applications are scrutinized to make sure the applicant’s story coheres. Some have DNA tests. A Department of Homeland Security officer with training in this screening process as well as specialized training for Syrian and Iraqi refugee cases interviews each applicant. The applicant also goes through in-depth interviews by a DHS officer with training in the process as well as specialized training for Syrian and Iraqi refugee cases. Refugees from Syria also go through another layer of screening, called the Syria Enhanced Review process, a process built on years of experience in vetting Iraqi refugee applicants. Military combatants are weeded out. Additionally, the lengthy security checks are done in cooperation with international and national police agencies like Interpol and Scotland Yard. Biometric data and personal information are vetted at every step of the application process.  The security process is part of a 13-step process necessary for resettlement (as outlined in a USCRI chart). The refugee screening process is also constantly refined. [Note* – the bill the US House passed last week adds no additional scrutiny to the screening process.  Instead it would require federal agencies to “certify” each Syrian or Iraqi refugee is not a security threat – a step FBI director Comey calls “impractical”.]  An article at CNN describes part of the rigorous security screening process:

Much attention has been focused on the security vetting refugees must go through before they come to the United States, particularly after it was revealed that one of the terrorists in the Paris attacks entered Europe through a refugee processing center.

Several federal agencies, including the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, the Defense Department, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, are involved in the process, which Deputy State Department Spokesman Mark Toner recently called, “the most stringent security process for anyone entering the United States.”

These agencies use biographical and biometric information about applicants to conduct a background check and make sure applicants really are who they say they are… Read more here

Posted in Department of Defense, Dept of Homeland Security, FBI, Iraqi, security/terrorism, Syrian | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

FL mayor rebukes governor, will accept refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 23, 2015

Several Democrat mayors across the nation are defying some of 30 Republican state governors and saying that they will ahead with plans to welcome refugee families to their cities. The governors have attacked the Syrian refugees in trying to stoke fears for political advantage knowing full well that the federal government has 18-24 month – and up to three years – rigorous security checks before allowing refugees in. The mayors of New York City, Louisville, Phoenix, Seattle, Kansas City, St. Louis, Charleston, Philadelphia, Sante Fe, New Orleans, Dallas, among other cities, and now Tallahassee are pushing back against the demagoguery. On Friday the U.S. Conference of Mayors sent a letter to Congress registering support for the U.S. refugee resettlement system. A video and article at WBBH-TV in Fort Myers has more:

Republican Gov. Rick Scott said Florida is not willing to accept Syrian refugees, but Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, told CNN Wednesday his city will continue to be a safe place for refugees.

“I believe strongly that we cannot turn our backs on the refugee community in their time of greatest need,” he said. “The U.S. vetting process for refugees is extremely rigorous, extensive, and comprehensive, and allows us to aid those that pose no threat to our country. Gov. Scott’s stance is driven by divisive politics.”… Read more here

Posted in Dallas/Fort Worth, Louisiana, New Mexico, NYC, Phoenix, security/terrorism, Syrian, Tallahassee | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

First Governor to Urge Pause Unable to Point to Single Concern in Refugee Screening

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 21, 2015

refugee logo2

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder who was the first of more than 30 mostly Republican governors to attempt to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees, was unable to point to a single problem with the current refugee security checks system when asked by reporters.  The only thing he was able to come up with was the need for a nebulous “review.” Of course, a highly rigorous security system is already in place.  Also having problems explaining what concerns there may be about the current two-year screening process for refugees seeking to enter the U.S. was Governor Rick Scott of Florida.  This week while making the rounds on news outlets to explain his decision to block new Syrian refugees from coming to Florida, Scott criticized President Obama’s administration for not providing background information to Florida law enforcement agencies.  When asked what specific information his administration had asked for that it hadn’t received, Scott replied, “They don’t provide any information.”  When reporters repeatedly asked if the State had asked for any information that it had not received, Scott was unable to refer to any information his administration had requested.  New Jersey governor Chris Christie said his state will not take in any refugees – “not even orphans under the age of five”.  Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal said he has directed state police to “track” the Syrian refugees in his state, which Louisiana state police then quickly played down.  Articles at Think Progress and National Public Radio gives Governor Snyder’s responses:

Michigan’s Rick Snyder was the first governor to urge a pause in admitting Syrian refugees into the United States. He triggered a national debate about refugee resettlement, and insists now that he only wants answers…

If we get to the point where we can say that review has taken place and people are confident that we have a system to let in people who have had their lives shattered, and at the same time can keep out the bad guys, hopefully we can start the process again of accepting refugees

“I wouldn’t single out any specific problem I have with it” … Read more here

Posted in Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, right-wing, security/terrorism, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Scapegoating Refugees for the Terror They Flee

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 20, 2015

75 Million Visitors to the U.S. Each Year – Why No Calls to Pause Tourism?


After the vote in the US House today to restrict Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the US why have there been no calls to tighten the flow of foreign visitors to the country?  Total international visitors to the US are projected to be more than 75 million in 2015, following 75 million that visited in 2014. If security is of paramount security why would the US Congress have no concern about the millions of visitors who receive less rigorous background and security checks than any of the 70,000 refugees resettled to the US last year?  Refugees receive more scrutiny than other other class of visitor (there were also 819,644 international students at institutions of higher education in the United States in a recent academic year). The answer is that Congressional representatives don’t believe there is a security threat from Syrian and Iraqi refugees – the people fleeing terrorism.  If they did they would have voted for a “pause” in international tourist travel to the US.  The reality here is appealing to the public’s fears for political gain, with refugees — the people with the least amount of power and most vulnerable — used as the scapegoats.  Some Democrats (47) have joined 242 Republicans (only two Republicans voted nay), which would require the FBI director to certify the background investigation for each Syrian or Iraqi refugee admitted to the United States, and Homeland Security and intelligence officials would have to certify that they are not security threats — a process FBI director Comey calls “impractical”. The vote for this bill reminds me of the Congress’ disastrous vote, also supported my many democrats, to authorize the 2003 war in Iraq in search of nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Will history look upon these actions similar to how we now regret that war in Iraq, the rejection of Jewish refugees at the onset of the Holocaust, and the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World  War II?  An article in The Guardian explains the House vote:

The House of Representatives has approved legislation that would make it even more difficult for refugees from Syria and Iraq to enter the United States, in a major rebuke to the Obama administration’s refugee policy.

The White House has already said the president will veto the legislation if it is also passed by the Senate. However, if today’s margin in the House was repeated in both chambers of Congress following a presidential veto, Congress could override such a veto. The measure is unlikely to receive a vote in the Senate because of the 60-vote super-majority needed to consider a bill under Senate rules… Read more here

Posted in Iraqi, legislation, right-wing, security/terrorism, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

France says it will take 30,000 Syrian refugees

Posted by Christopher Coen on November 19, 2015

Humanitarian measure undermines ISIS’ argument that the West is at odds with Muslims


With Republican politicians calling for their states to slam the door in the face of desperate Syrian refugees after the Islamic State attacks in Paris, France will instead be welcoming those fleeing the grips of the terrorist group. French President Francois Hollande has declared that his country will accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.  Meanwhile in the US, in a moment reminiscent of our nation’s shameful round-up and internment of innocent Americans of Japanese descent during WWII, Tennessee House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said, in reference to the Syrian refugees escaping the Islamic State,”We need to activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop them from coming in to the state by whatever means we can.” An article in the Washington Post explains France’s plans:

In a move that puts the heated U.S. debate over taking in Syrian refugees in perspective, French President Francois Hollande declared on Wednesday that his country would accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over next two years. He announced this at a gathering of mayors from French cities, where he received a standing ovation.

Hollande said that “30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment…

Hollande observed that “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds,” referring to the cloud of suspicion that has fallen on the hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees who arrived at Europe’s borders this year. Despite speculation, not one of the Paris attackers has so far been identified as a Syrian national.

Hollande said it was France’s “humanitarian duty” to honor its commitments to refugees…

The message flies in the face of recent statements by American Republican presidential hopefuls and governors, who have all cited the security concerns surrounding the terror attacks as reasons to halt resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States… Read more here

Posted in right-wing, security/terrorism, Syrian, Uncategorized, xenophobia/nationalism/isolationism | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »


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