Friday, May 12, 2017

Refugees are not Terrorists

In 1939, The U.S. government refused to let the German ocean liner St. Louis dock in Miami, claiming there might be Nazi spies among the 900 Jewish refugees on board.
The threat was enormously exaggerated by both the government and the media. Refugee advocates lost control of the narrative, and Jewish refugees, rather than Nazi sympathizers, were branded as the threat. Sanctuary rejected, some on the St. Louis went on to die in the Holocaust.

After the war, a committee of the new United Nations established an international system of laws to protect refugees. No more would refugees be subject to the whims of individual governments bowing to political pressure and organised bigotry. Instead, the rule of law would prevent hysteria from overriding justice. Thus was born the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Today, blaming and shaming refugees is now threatening to destroy the asylum seekers' protection system. Today’s refugees are presented as an undistinguished mass of dangerous Muslims and public perception, verging on hysteria and whipped up by some unscrupulous politicians present the image of the vulnerable of being infiltrated by ISIS and jihadists. Governments and the media conflate refugees fleeing terrorism with terrorism itself. This prejudice has led to the argument that refugees as a group pose a danger to host states and as a result governments are now invoking “national security” as grounds to turn back entire nationalities of refugees.

The 1951 Refugee Convention fully understood the habit of governments to object to anything and everything on security grounds and included a “national security” exception to Article 33 on non-refoulement, the prohibition against returning refugees to places where they might be at risk. A state may exclude or expel a refugee where “there are reasonable grounds for regarding the refugee as a danger to the security of the country in which he is.” The UNHCR says that the exception should be applied very narrowly, in individual cases and after a hearing. However, unfortunately, there is no accepted definition of ”national security,” nor is there a binding procedural standard for determining when it applies, the existence of the national security exception gives states room to restrict asylum access with devastating consequences. 

The current toxic atmosphere raises some tough questions. Why do governments and the media vilify Muslim refugees?  We point to how racist hatred and religious bigotry thrives on terrorist acts. Refugees are collateral victims. 

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