Welcoming the Syrian Refugees

At our November Business Meeting, Reno Friends debated a topic that days later would  command the front page: whether to welcome Syrians refugees in northern Nevada. The federal government is working through local non-profits to find homes and livelihoods nationwide for the 10,000 Syrian refugees it has promised to take. Our Meeting had been asked what it could do.

The Syrian tragedy is all too familiar today: refugee families slogging their way through the Balkans in a cold rain, drowned children washed ashore after their boats swamp in the rough Mediterranean Sea. Young men, many of them, but also elderly, parents, women, kids and babies — more than 4 million in all enduring a terrifying journey to escape terror and war.

Reno Meeting decided we would do what we could. A few days later, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, the national lobbying arm of the Quakers, wrote us to urge our Senators to support funding for the processing and settlement of Syrian refugees in the United States. Several of us called to ask the government to authorize the spending.

Then came the horrifying attacks by ISIS in Paris and Beirut. With several hundred dead and ISIS threatening to attack American cities, governors of many states declared they were unwilling to allow Syrian refugee families to settle within their borders. Governor Brian Sandoval of Nevada chose a different path: rather than an outright refusal, he said Nevada would accept no Syrian refugees until the White House had reviewed the resettlement program to make sure it was as thorough as possible. To date, nine Syrians have been resettled in Nevada, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

I understand the fear we harbor in our hearts. I lived through 9/11 in Washington, D.C., and remember well the paralyzing anxiety of another attack. I worried about friends and family riding the Metro, visiting popular landmarks like the Smithsonian, or just driving through the city. I know how hard it is to feel unsafe, to fear that a random act of terrorism will destroy the life and freedoms we often take for granted.

But does that mean the United States should turn away Syrian refugees? There is a remote danger that some of the refugees could be terrorists or be radicalized in the future, but so can American citizens and immigrants already living among us. Does fear of the few mean we should block the many who are worthy and desperate? And wouldn’t the Syrian children now enduring hardship to reach a better world be less likely to mature into terrorists if we took them in and cared for them?

These are difficult, complex questions. Nothing here is simple. But for me, this is a time when being a Quaker helps. Our Peace testimony asks us to recognize the child of God in everyone, and to do what we can to end violence and promote justice and human understanding. At the same time, the Integrity testimony urges us to be true to our word. “When lives are centered in the Spirit, beliefs and actions are congruent, and words are dependable,” says our Quaker guide, Faith and Practice.

It is, after all, the season of Peace. Let us open our hearts.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.