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Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad says lawmakers anti-refugee stance is more about politics than technicalities, as many refugees have been screened for more than two years

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore. The Syrian refugee crisis is dominating headlines after now more than 30 governors publicly asked for the resettlement of Syrian refugees to stop until security concerns can be addressed. Also the house passed the bill with both Republican and Democratic support to suspend President Obama’s program to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year, and then intensify screening. The narrative around the refugee crisis is mostly around fear. Let’s take a look at what some lawmakers are saying. SPEAKER: Why should we take one of these people? You know, this is one of the reasons I opposed Rubio’s bill originally on immigration, because I didn’t think there was enough scrutiny for those who might come and attack us. In the little town I live in in Kentucky two refugees came from Iraq, and they tried to buy Stinger missiles to attack us with. So yeah, the refugee program has needed more scrutiny for a long time. SPEAKER: What I’m saying is Syrian Muslim refugees should be resettled in the Middle East, in majority Muslim countries. DESVARIEUX: Now joining us to put this all into context is our guest Vijay Prashad. He’s a professor of international studies at Trinity College. Thanks so much for joining us, Vijay. VIJAY PRASHAD: Pleasure. DESVARIEUX: So Vijay, what do you think are the main points missing in the conversation when we talk about the Syrian refugee crisis? PRASHAD: What can you say? I mean, look, the fact is that in about 20 years or 30 years, a historian is going to look back at the events of these last few weeks and is going to judge Washington, I think, very poorly. It’s a national shame that these governors and so many politicians have been fearmongering about people who are essentially fleeing from chaos and war, and you know, have been sitting in refugee camps for years being scrutinized by the United Nations Relief Organization, by the State Department, you know, by various entities before they get in this very short queue of 10,000 people to come to the United States. Half the population of Syria is displaced. There are millions of refugees in camps in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Turkey. There are refugees from Syria in camps in Egypt. There are even, believe it or not, Syrian refugees in Iraq, given that there are Iraqi refugees in Jordan. I mean, these people have suffered greatly. They have been under surveillance by the UN. And yet, despite all that, there is this really hateful and I think intolerant conversation, particularly among Republicans but not, you know, merely Republicans. Democrats also have been really quite shameful. This coming right after the attacks in Beirut, in Paris, and now the ongoing attack in Mali. If, indeed, Al-Qaeda and ISIS want to make this a war of civilizations, in a sense the American politicians have met them toe-to-toe at the line. DESVARIEUX: But Vijay, what do you make of the argument that we here in the United States, we’re a sovereign country, and we’ve a right to decide who enters? What’s wrong with just intensifying the screening process, as the House bill would do? PRASHAD: You see, there two things here. One is the technicalities of screening and the other is the politics of it. You know, these people who are on the list of 10,000 have been screened for over two years. I mean, I don’t understand how much more screening is going to happen of them. But let’s say that this is not really about the technicalities of the screening. I don’t believe it is. I believe that many of these people who vote for this measure don’t understand the technicalities of what the UNHCR does, of what the U.S. government does, before they allow people on these lists. So I don’t believe this is about the technicalities. I think this is about the politics. I mean, the very fact that the grandson of Prescott Bush can stand, you know, in New Hampshire and say quite cavalierly that we should only allow Christian Syrians to enter the country, and when he’s asked by somebody–or actually, informed, that many of these families have Christians and Muslims and are very diverse families, he said, well, the Muslims in the family need to be screened. I mean, what message is that sent to the rest of the world? In a sense I think it’s quite embarrassing for the United States to have people who are considered fairly moderate to be speaking in this language which entirely mirrors the ideology of Al-Qaeda. So I don’t actually believe this is a technical issue of screening. I think this is a real political failure. DESVARIEUX: What would be an alternative policy then, Vijay? PRASHAD: Well, I think the United States should take 10,000 people. You know, the Canadians, when Justin Trudeau won the election, he won the election just a few weeks ago. He said in the two months of November and December Canada will take 25,000 Syrian refugees. That’s it. And the issue for Canada isn’t who’s coming, but can we get 25,000 refugees to Canada in two months, because that was his pledge. That’s a different conversation. They are not worried about, you know, let’s screen them a third time or a fourth time. This is their position. There are over a million Syrian refugees in Lebanon. That’s a country of four million people. And I believe that number of one million is a very conservative figure. These countries are overburdened with a population where the resources itself, in places like Lebanon, are not very great. The countries like the United States go to the refugee conferences on the Syrian refugee crisis and make pledges and then don’t meet the pledges. You know, UNHCR complains every few years that the pledges are never met. You know, the Syrian crisis funds that the UN requests, they are never up to the mark. So on the one side, there’s this statement, well, why don’t we just pay for them to be warehoused elsewhere? Well, okay. That’s fair enough. But you don’t even pick up the bill. So neither has the West paid for, you know, a proper condition for refugees in the region, and nor is it willing to take them. I really don’t think this is a question of screening. I think there’s something else at work here. DESVARIEUX: Yeah. That’s something else we’re certainly going to keep track of, because the narrative is just being hammered here in the press. Thank you so much for joining us, Vijay. PRASHAD: Thanks a lot. DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.