Before this trip, I thought I knew how the United States had been responding to the Syrian Civil War. We had admitted almost no refugees, and we were involved in some way militarily but I wasn’t aware quite how. After talking with some Syrians and conducting a bit of research, here’s what I learned.
The number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in 2016 was double what I expected at 84,995. This number accounts for refugees all around the world granted asylum in the U.S. In fact this is more refugees than the U.S. has accepted since the 1990s. But at a time when there is far greater need than we’ve seen since World War II, can we be doing more?
A country’s economy is often a factor influencing the number of refugees granted asylum. Part of that involves the percentage of population that country can support. In 2016, the U.S. population was 324,118,787. That means .026% of the U.S. population in 2016 was refugees from varying locations around the world.
Economically, we can resettle far more refugees. It seems that often times, economic reasons stop us as a nation from doing otherwise compassionate or common sense acts for foreigners or our own citizens. So what’s getting in the way here? You might be able to guess what I’m going to say here: fear. It’s become so ingrained in our heads that we almost have to work to not automatically think of someone from the Middle East as a terrorist. This is heartbreaking, especially when the facts so strongly oppose the amount of fear we have. Here’s some statistics related to our anxiety toward refugees (especially from Muslim-majority countries) that I find very interesting.
- If you are an American, there is a 1 in 3.6 billion chance that you will be killed by a refugee. To put that into perspective, Americans are more likely to die from stairs (1 in 2,739), cows (1 in 16.2 million), your TV falling on you (1 in 1.8 million), lightning strike (1 in 174,426), and more. If you want to be afraid of something, choose one of those; they’re rare but still much more likely than being killed by a refugee.
- From 2011-2015 about 12% of terrorist acts were committed by Muslims. Over 50% of terrorist attacks were committed by white supremacists, often self-proclaimed white supremacists.
- We do get disproportionate coverage of Muslim-American crimes, but not in the way we might expect. When looking at coverage in American media about American crimes, “a perpetrator who is not Muslim would have to kill on average about 7 more people to receive the same amount of coverage as a perpetrator who is Muslim” (Erin Kearns, criminologist at Georgia State University, quoted on NPR’s podcast Hidden Brain).
- Muslim-Americans account for 1% of the U.S. population.
- There have been 3 terrorists who have entered the U.S. through the Visa Waiver program since the program was started in 1986. That amounts to 1 terrorist for every 129 million entrants with the program.
Though it feels difficult for everyday people to make a change in federal government policy, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. Policy never changes overnight; first the will of the people has to change. For that to happen, we each need to make a conscious effort to put that almost automatic fear and uncertainty aside and remember the positive stories we’ve heard about Muslims and refugees. We can spread those stories to make other people aware that we should be less afraid of refugees than we should be of our TVs falling on us. It may not feel like much, but step by step, we can affect change in the world around us.