Yesterday Governor Asa Hutchinson joined many U.S. governors in opposing efforts to relocate Syrian refugees to the United States. Governor Hutchinson’s statement read,
“As governor, I oppose any facility or installation in Arkansas being used as a Syrian refugee center. Many of the Syrian refugees are fleeing violence in their own country but Europe, Asia or Africa are logically the best places for resettlement or for temporary asylum. Syria is a war torn country and the United States will support our European friends in fighting ISIL in Syria and elsewhere; however, this is not the right strategy for the United States to become a permanent place of relocation. Again, I will oppose Arkansas being used as such a relocation center.
“The hardships facing these refugees and their families are beyond most of our understanding, and my thoughts and prayers are with them, but I will not support a policy that is not the best solution and that poses risk to Arkansans.”
Altogether some twenty-seven states have made it clear they do not want Syrian refugees admitted; most of these states are located in the southern or midwestern U.S., and a few national pundits have speculated these governors’ decisions are somehow racially motivated.
There is another explanation, however: When the U.S. government takes in refugees, it has a habit of sending them to live in the South or Midwest, and Arkansas is no exception.
As the U.S. military withdrew from Vietnam in the 1970s, many refugees fled southeast Asia. Under Congress’s 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act (PL94-23), many of these refugees were temporarily sent to Fort Chaffee in Sebastian County.
In 1980, the U.S. government housed Cuban emigrants at Fort Chaffee as part of the Mariel boatlift.
Though not directly related to a refugee crisis, Fort Chaffee also housed German prisoners-of-war during World War II; facilities in southeast Arkansas were used as internment camps for Japanese-Americans from 1942 to 1945; and in 2005 Fort Chaffee’s surplus barracks were used to house evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
These historical examples illustrate that when the government is looking to house thousands of displaced people–regardless of the reason–Arkansas is on the list of potential locations. That means if the U.S. government begins taking in Syrian refugees, there is a very real possibility refugees could eventually be housed in Arkansas or nearby Oklahoma.
Should the U.S. take action on the humanitarian crises in Syria and Iraq? Yes, absolutely. We have shared multiple stories on social media about the brutality families–especially Christians–are experiencing at the hands of ISIS.
The Plains of Nineveh in Iraq were once home to 1.4 million Christians. Today there are fewer than 400,000 living there. One million Christians have been killed or displaced by ISIS in one region of Iraq alone. We have to do something.
If anyone in America understands the depth of the crisis in the Middle East, it is probably Franklin Graham. Graham’s organization Samaritan’s Purse is one of the leading ministries reaching out to refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq. We recently shared a video of Samaritan’s Purse assisting refugees as they landed by boat in Greece.
In spite of all Samaritan’s Purse is doing to help these refugees–many of whom are Muslims–Franklin Graham has made it clear time and again he does not believe the U.S. can afford simply to open its borders to people fleeing the Middle East. If Graham believed accepting refugees to the U.S. was the best way to help them, I think he would say so. As it is, I trust his assessment of the crisis.
The U.S. and the rest of the Free World needs to take decisive action to defeat ISIS and put a stop to this crisis, and that means Christians in America need to step up and start helping ministries and organizations working in the Middle East. Transporting refugees halfway around the world to the U.S. just does not seem like a solution.