Mind Matters — Fear: The Enemy of Fact: The Obscurer of Compassion

My Canadian friend happily relates to me over the phone how her little community is accepting Syrian refugees. She and her husband are involved in the settlement of two of these families and a local church has been instrumental in working on living arrangements. What welcome words after listening to loud diatribes in the news here about how we must “protect” ourselves from terrorism by closing the door on refugees. False claims foment fear. And our fear of the other—in this case, Syrian refugees—obscures compassion. So how do we return to the human state of compassion and dial down fear? Becoming aware of the facts can help.

One falsehood is that a Syrian refugee was involved in the recent attack in Paris. In fact, all the perpetrators involved in the Paris violence were European nationals. The one “Syrian passport” linked to the terrorism was later found by officials to have been fraudulent.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), António Guterres, reports that “it is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism; it is terrorism, tyranny, and war that create refugees.” Mercy Corps, a non-profit humanitarian organization, notes that Syrians are now the largest refugee population in the world. According to World Vision, twelve million Syrians have fled their homes, half of these children. Presently there are four million Syrian refugees in five host countries: Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.

President Obama has initiated a plan to settle ten thousand refugees in the United States, to which there has been a backlash of fear with little basis in fact. The facts are that refugees undergo more rigorous screening than anyone else being allowed into the U.S.

Consider that the Syrian refugees allowed to enter the U.S. have been waiting in refugee camps for at least eighteen months. In that time, they have undergone a rigorous process, through the UNHCR, as well as extensive interviews and background checks through the FBI, Department of Defense, National Counter-Terrorism Center, Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. Only after all checks are completed and cleared may a refugee travel to the U.S. This is by no means a trivial process.

In the U.S., non-governmental agencies (NGO’s), such as World Relief and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, place the refugees, not the government. Placement is not about politics, but about finding a “welcoming community” with affordable housing, employment, and public transportation.

Ah, a welcoming community! That would be one where compassion is no longer obscured by fear of the “other” because it knew the truth: that “other” is us.

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