Syrian Refugee Programs: A Backdoor for Jihadists?
By Amanda Vicinanzo
As the conflict in Syria continues to rage, the U.S. continues to admit thousands of Syrian refugees each year, and is expected to admit 70,000 refugees from other countries this year alone. The number of Syrian refugees seeking safe haven on American shores is only expected to increase, prompting lawmakers to raise concerns over the security risks inherent in the refugee vetting process.
On Wednesday, however, the House Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing to review the potential threat posed by terrorists exploiting refugee resettlement programs. It examined the challenge of gathering sufficient information to vet them and what additional risk mitigation measures can be implemented to improve the ability to detect refugee applicants of concern.
“For Americans, opening our doors to those who flee violence, war, and exploitation is part of who we are as a nation. America has a long and proud history of providing safe harbor for refugees,” said subcommittee chairman Peter King (R-NY). “Refugees admitted to America include Congressman Tom Lantos (Hungary) and scientist Albert Einstein (Germany), among thousands more who have contributed to US society.”
“But,” King noted, “We have also had refugees and asylum seekers take advantage of US safe haven to plot and carry out attacks.”
While the U.S. has a history of welcoming refugees, the Syrian conflict is a special case, since Syria is home to one of the largest confluences of Islamist terrorists in history. Consequently, US officials are warning that the refugee process could become a backdoor for jihadists.
Although most refugees are unlikely to have terrorist ties, vulnerabilities in the refugee vetting process could allow those who do to enter the U.S. and possibly conduct an attack on the homeland. Back in May 2011, for example, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green, Ky., and charged with 21 offenses, including conspiracy to kill US nationals abroad and attempting to provide material support to terrorists.
Earlier this year, Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) sent a letter to the Department of State to express concern over the agency’s desire to resettle tens of thousands of Syrian refugees in the United States. McCaul commented, “The United States has historically taken a leading role in refugee resettlement and humanitarian protections. But we cannot allow the refugee process to become a backdoor for jihadists.”
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