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Expert Voices

Refugees are Not Terrorists

Published November 16, 2015

Curt Goering is CVT’s executive director.

At the Center for Victims of Torture, our thoughts and hearts are with the families and victims of the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad and Zabul province, Afghanistan. Because of our work with torture survivors in global locations, we are all too familiar with the trauma and grief that come with acts of terror and war atrocities, and with the hard work it takes to recover from this kind of violence.

Our extensive experience comes directly from working with the refugee and asylum-seeking populations who flee war and conflict. Over the years, our clients have described the tactics and atrocities used by militant groups and other perpetrators who are determined to control and terrorize individuals and communities. This makes us well aware of the ongoing global threat from terrorism and the importance of protecting security. It is clear to us that security measures for refugee resettlement need to include appropriate and rigorous screening.

And currently, the process for a refugee to be resettled into the United States is extremely rigorous. Before being considered for third country resettlement, most refugees must first register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In making a referral for resettlement, the UNHCR first conducts an in-depth assessment and background check. Only those who pass the screenings and have been determined to be among the most vulnerable populations and not a security risk are referred on to the U.S. Next, the U.S conducts meticulous security screenings, which include biographic and identity investigations; FBI biometric checks of fingerprints and photographs; in-depth, in-person interviews by Department of Homeland Security officers; medical screenings; and other checks by U.S. domestic and international intelligence agencies including the National Counterterrorism Center and National Security Council.

Refugees are the most thoroughly screened people who travel into the United States.

Therefore, I am outraged to see people use the Paris attacks as a way to perpetuate the lie that refugees are terrorists and should not be allowed into host countries. We work with refugees every day. They are not terrorists; they are fleeing indiscriminate or targeted violence directed against civilians for political purposes. Their lives have been destroyed by acts of terrorism – whether state sponsored or by extremist groups. This is a time to stand with victims of this horrifying violence, not foster malicious falsehoods.

We understand the impulse to react. But these are times that require us to keep human dignity at the heart of our individual response. And these are times to emphasize that human rights and the rule of law must be at the core of government response.

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