Burns: U.S. Must Continue To Take In Refugees, End Anti-Moslem Rhetoric

Cambridge, MA.  In an recent interview entitled Professor Nicholas Burns Responds to the House Vote on Syrian Refugees, university professor, columnist, lecturer, and former American diplomat Nick Burns spoke to Doug Gavel at the Harvard Kennedy School.

During his career in the State Department, Nick was United States Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs within the United States Department of State.


Professor Nicholas Burns of Harvard.
File photo by Jon Chase/Harvard Staff Photographer.

In an email to The Stewardship Report today, Nick stated:

We must continue to take in refugees. In fact, we should admit many more than the 10,000 Syrians the Obama Administration plans to accept during the next year.   Security, of course, is a legitimate issue. But, the federal government already has a tough, effective system in place that has served us well since 9/11. Absence of adequate security measures is not the issue. What is at stake is our moral and political leadership if we close our doors to the greatest number of refugees globally since 1945.

Like many Americans, I am also alarmed and appalled by the anti-Moslem rhetoric in our national discourse and by those who advocate digging a proverbial moat around America and pulling up the drawbridges. To be true to our history and values, we must continue to keep our doors open to those Syrians and others who face persecution and who seek refuge in our immigrant nation.

Doug Gavel writes for the Harvard Kennedy School:

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday night (November 19) passed a bill that would halt the current program allowing Syrian refugees into the United States until new security measures are in place. We spoke with Nicholas Burns, Roy and Barbara Goodman Family Professor of the Practice of Diplomacy and International Relations, director of the Future of Diplomacy Project, and former U.S. Undersecretary of State to get his perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis in general and on the implications of the House vote.

Q: What does the House measure do?

Burns: The House bill is extremely unwise. If passed by the full Congress, it would make it extraordinarily difficult for the U.S. government to process refugees. The bill’s authors don’t recognize that there is already in place an effective and quite tough screening process.

Q: Why is the president opposed to the bill?

Burns: President Obama is right to threaten to veto a final bill if these onerous restrictions are still in place. First, the current screening process is very effective. It takes up to two years for an intending refugee to be fully screened. We know how to do this and are good at it. We’ve taken in over 700,000 refugees since 9/11. Second, slamming our doors shut on refugees, which is what this legislation will accomplish, would be, in the President’s words, “a betrayal of our values.” We are an immigrant nation that has always taken in refugees from every faith and ethnic group and from every part of the world. It is part of who we are as a nation. And, presidents of both parties have supported taking in refugees during and after global conflicts. Remember it was a Republican, President Ford, who welcomed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees following the end of the war.

Q: What would be the diplomatic implications from such a policy?

Burns: If we do stop taking in refugees, it will diminish our credibility in the Middle East and around the world. It will be seen as a denial of the core values of our country.

Q: Are other nations also taking similar measures to restrict the flow of Syrian migrants into their countries?

Burns: Our European allies are taking a very different approach. Germany will take in nearly a million people. France has reaffirmed it will accept Syrian refugees even after the Paris Attacks. During the last seven decades, the United States has always led by taking in the greatest number of refugees during humanitarian emergencies. The president’s proposal to accept 10,000 refugees is actually quite low given our greater generosity in the past. We should accept at least 65,000 Syrian refugees this year and ideally many more.

Q: What would be a thoughtful long-term approach to the issue of Syrian refugees?

Burns: We must recognize that the Syrian civil war has produced the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East in memory. More than 12 million of Syria’s 22 million people are now homeless. The war has now engulfed not only Syria but also Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and even Europe. We need to undertake a more assertive strategy to defeat, and not just contain, the Islamic State. We need to arm the Syrian Kurds, the Peshmerga and Syrian and Iraqi Sunni groups to fight the Islamic State on the ground. And Secretary of State John Kerry is right to pursue negotiations to end the war over the mid to long term.

But, most of all, the United States is the natural leader of a coalition of countries to provide greater support to the refugees in the region. A no-fly zone in Northern Syria would be one way to protect civilians inside Syria and to prevent an even greater number of refugees.

Finally, we should be true to our history and bipartisan tradition of being generous and open-hearted to people under threat of persecution. We should maintain strict security measures in screening refugees. But, we should also keep America’s doors open to the rest of the world.

Nick Burns was once an exchange student with AFS and worked from his desk at the State Department to allow Orphans International Worldwide (link) to operate after the U.S.-led invasion with Kurdish children in the north of Iraq, although the program was never initiated.  He directs the Future of Diplomacy Project.

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The Editors
The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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