LGBT advocates are divided over calls to block the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the U.S. in the wake of last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris.
The governors of Maryland, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and more than 20 other states have urged the Obama administration to no longer resettle Syrian refugees in their respective jurisdictions. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Republican presidential candidates have made similar requests.
“As governor of Maryland, the safety and security of Marylanders remains my first priority,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday in a statement. “Following the terrorist attacks on Paris just four days ago, and after careful consideration, I am now requesting that federal authorities cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety.”
The governors of Virginia, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington are among those who said they would not seek to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their respective states.
“Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values,” President Obama told reporters on Monday during a press conference at the G-20 summit in Turkey.
Obama stressed all refugees undergo “rigorous screening and security checks” before they can resettle in the U.S.
State Department spokesperson Mark Toner on Monday during his daily press briefing in D.C. said the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Terrorist Screening Center and the National Counterterrorism Center are the agencies that conduct these measures. He said Syrian refugees “go through…additional forms of security screenings.”
“Many of these refugees from Syria, from the region, are fleeing precisely the type of senseless violence that did occur on Friday night in Paris,” said Toner. “Closing the door in the face of these individuals would be a betrayal of our values.”
Toner did not immediately say whether states have the legal authority to block the refugees from resettling in their respective jurisdictions.
Administration urged to allow 500 LGBT Syrians to resettle in U.S.
French officials on Monday said one of the men behind the Paris attacks was posing as a Syrian refugee when he entered Europe via the Greek island of Leros on Oct. 3.
The Obama administration in September announced plans to allow 10,000 Syrians to resettle in the U.S. in the 2016 fiscal year, and another 75,000 in 2017 in response to the growing influx of migrants and refugees into Europe. Advocates have urged the White House to allocate 500 of these slots to LGBT Syrians who have fled the Islamic State — also known as Daesh — and Islamic militant groups in their war-torn homeland.
“Any carte blanche policy for the acceptance of Syrian refugees into this country needs to be put on hold immediately given the atrocities that took place in Paris mere days ago,” Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory T. Angelo told the Washington Blade on Monday.
Angelo said governors are “right to exercise caution,” referring to a 2014 poll from the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Qatar that found 4 percent of Syrian refugees have a “positive” view of the Islamic State.
More than 70 percent of the Syrian refugees who took part in the survey said they have a “negative” view of the Sunni militant group.
“Many of them will be LGBT people who will need the protection of the United States to live safely and openly,” Immigration Equality Legal Director Aaron C. Morris told the Blade on Monday. “Before any refugee is permitted to enter the U.S., they are heavily vetted and must pass stringent security clearance. As such, it is in America’s best interest to fulfill its commitment to human rights.”
Gay Syrian describes himself as ‘successful refugee’
Canada in September 2014 granted Ahmed “Danny” Ramadan, a gay Syrian man, and his boyfriend refugee status.
Ramadan told the Blade on Tuesday during a Skype interview from his home in Vancouver that islamophobia and xenophobia are motivating the governors who have announced they want to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their respective states.
“It represents an understanding that refugees bring terrorism with them,” he said. “The truth is they left terrorism at home.”
Ramadan told the Blade the process through which he and his boyfriend went in order to resettle in Canada took two years. It included submitting a 150-page application and a security screening of him and his relatives.
Ramadan described himself as a “successful refugee,” noting he now works for a Vancouver LGBT advocacy organization. He said his story directly counters propaganda from the Islamic State that says Western countries will shun Syrians who flee their war-torn homeland.
“I am the person that ISIS fears the most,” said Ramadan.
Ahmed “Danny” Ramadan, Lebanon, gay news, Washington Blade
Canada in September 2014 granted refugee status to Ahmed “Danny” Ramadan and his boyfriend who had fled Syria. (Photo courtesy Ramadan)
Tarek Zeidan of Helem, a Lebanese LGBT advocacy group that works with Syrian refugees, told the Blade on Tuesday during a WhatsApp interview from Beirut that he is “shocked” by the governors who “think they had the authority and the gumption to make such a decision.”
The U.N. High Commission for Refugees says there were 1,075,637 registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon as of Oct. 31.
“10,000 is quite a small number compared to the millions that are here in Lebanon,” said Zeidan, who spoke with the Blade less than a week after two suicide bombers killed more than 40 people in Beirut. “I haven’t seen any cases whereby refugees in the United States haven’t necessarily become an organized political group or a security risk.”
The Islamic State — which has executed more than 30 men in Syria and Iraq who were accused of committing sodomy — has claimed responsibility for the Beirut attacks.
The Sunni extremist group has also claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks that killed 129 people and left more than 300 others injured. The Islamic State on Monday released a video in which it said it threatens to attack D.C.
“You’re using refugees as currency,” Zeidan told the Blade, referring to the governors who said they plan to block Syrian refugees from resettling in their states. “They’re not just going back to poverty and lack of opportunity. They’re going to back to war. This talk is incredibly dangerous.”
Matthew Corso, chair of Center Global, a program of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community that works with refugees and asylum seekers, reiterated Morris’ point.
“We recognize that this is a federal process that involves a time consuming and rigorous screening process,” Corso told the Blade. “We hope that Washington, D.C., along with Maryland and Virginia, will be welcoming to all refugees from Syria, including LGBTI refugees who face discrimination, harassment and even death threats.”
“Our goal at Center Global is to provide a welcoming environment for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees,” he added.
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