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COMMENTARY: America and Its Refugees: A Retrospect For the Future

By Hacer Berra Akcan

Throughout the last 15 years, Houston has been the most prominent city for refugee resettlement, embracing more than 1,500 refugees from various countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and now, Syria. Many Americans tend to either ignore or protest the possibility of refugees entering our country, especially after the major terror attacks that have recently taken place in Paris and San Bernardino. These assaults have led much of our citizens to think under the influence of hindsight bias (which occurs from one traumatic event causing a trend of bias), as many Americans, supported by certain lawmakers and presidential candidates, have begun to protest Muslim communities along with the small number of Syrian refugees that are starting to settle throughout the United States.

In my own high school, many students are indifferent to the thousands of struggles asylum seekers face, not unlike many Americans. They are too wrapped up in classwork and pop culture to sympathize with women and children going through unimaginable horrors. Adults, just like their younger counterparts, do the same in a country that keeps us so busy we tend to ignore important crises. Even I, at many times, am tired of hearing more about the constant crisis at hand, but what I, along with my fellow students, have failed to recognize that this horrible problem continues to drag on because of our indifference. Not only until I went to Turkey myself did I comprehend the reality of the situation: the thousands of Syrian children missing years of school, the awful shelters that many families use as a sad excuse for housing, the struggle of communicating without knowing the native language, the prejudice many of these individuals face.

Many of these émigrés come from dangerous situations due to various reasons: the current civil war in Syria, the expanding of the Islamic State, and unadaptable conditions. As of now, 13.5 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian aid, and more than four million are refugees; half of them children. Most have sought out temporary asylum in neighboring Middle Eastern countries, where many adults cannot find jobs and children are unable to go to school as families live in horrible conditions that states are barely able to provide because of the lack of funding and support from the global community. Refugees venture on westward towards Europe in hopes of establishing a better future and livelihood for themselves, risking their lives as they take dangerous routes on land and sea (ripped off by smugglers who take advantage of the desperate group), only to find themselves barred from bordering countries such as Hungary. The current winter makes situations worse.

Out of the millions of settlers, America has agreed to take on as many as 8,000, reluctantly allowing Syrians into the country after a thorough and rigorous application process: applicants identify themselves and received by a federal Resettlement Support Center (RSC) as biographic security checks start with enhanced interagency security checks, then are interviewed by Homeland Security and proceed with biometric security and medical checks, given cultural orientations and are finally assigned to domestic resettlement locations.

Yet, in spite all the procedures and efforts under taken by both refugees and the U.S. government, our own Governor Greg Abbott refuses to accept these desperate people, most who are women, children, and elders. A large number of Americans do not understand that there can be beneficial long term effects to housing and helping these immigrants; yet, a look at countries currently housing refugees such as Lebanon indicate otherwise: an additional 1 percent increase in Syrian refugees increases Lebanese service exports by 1.5 percent. In Turkey, they have generated more formal non-agricultural jobs and increased the average wages for Turkish workers.

In a time of chaos and uncertainty, refugees settling throughout the United States, and especially in Houston (which will be taking in a greater number that most cities, and is housing around 20 individuals now), need our citizens help. We must show them the new opportunities that await them, the freedom that is granted equally to every individual without prejudice, and most importantly, the generosity of our people.

Akcan is a junior at Clements High School

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