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Nearly half of US states want to shut their doors to Syrian refugees

Obama has criticised “shameful” calls to screen the refugees based on their religion.

Image: PA

NEARLY HALF OF the 50 US states have moved to shut the door on Syrian refugees as Republican lawmakers urged a halt to the resettlement programme, citing security fears following the Paris attacks.

President Barack Obama pushed back, criticising “shameful” calls to screen the refugees fleeing the war-torn country based on their religion.

However, he faced a barrage of pressure from at least 22 Republican-led states, GOP presidential candidates, key members of Congress, and, in one case, a Democratic governor to suspend a programme to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees on US soil in 2016.

The discovery of a Syrian passport near the body of one Paris assailant has revived Europe’s debate on how hard a line to take on the record migrant influx.

In the United States, several Republican presidential hopefuls including Donald Trump, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio said outright that America must not take in Syrian refugees because they might include Islamic State (IS) militants.

And Republican state governors lined up to demand the suspension of plans to resettle Syrians.

“Given the tragic attacks in Paris and the threats we have already seen, Texas cannot participate in any program (sic) that will result in Syrian refugees — any one of whom could be connected to terrorism — being resettled in Texas,” Governor Greg Abbott of the large southern state wrote in a letter to Obama yesterday.

“I will do everything humanly possible to stop any plans from the Obama administration to put Syrian refugees in Mississippi,” that state’s governor, Phil Bryant, added.

Obama’s policy of welcoming such individuals “is not only misguided, it is extremely dangerous,” he said.

Alabama and Michigan announced their opposition on Sunday.

They have been joined by Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan — a Democrat — has backed them.

Her spokesman said Hassan believes the Obama administration should “halt acceptance of refugees from Syria” until it can assure the vetting process is as strong as possible.

rick Governor Rick Snyder Source: PA

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan, home to one of America’s largest concentrations of Middle East immigrants, said he decided to suspend arrivals of Syrian refugees until the Department of Homeland Security completes a “full review” of security clearances and procedures.

Michigan’s leading newspaper, the Detroit Free Press, reported that between 1,800 and 2,000 refugees have been resettled in the state over the past year, about 200 of whom were from Syria.

‘Un-American’

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is running for president, signed an executive order yesterday instructing state agencies to “take all available steps to stop the relocation of Syrian refugees to Louisiana”.

He also wrote to Obama on Saturday urging him to “pause the process,” and complained that he was kept in the dark about Syrian refugees as they began arriving in New Orleans earlier this month.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations decried the governors’ “un-American” reactions.

“Governors who reject those fleeing war and persecution abandon our ideals and instead project our fears to the world,” CAIR said.

Suzanne Akhras Sahloul, director of the Syrian Community Network which helps refugees adjust to American life, warned of growing “Islamophobia” in the country.

“What happened to us that we are now closing our doors to people who are escaping terrorism, trauma and death?” she told AFP.

At least six states have stated they remain open to Syrian refugees.

One is Washington, whose governor, Jay Inslee, issued a statement saying: “We have been and will continue to be a state that embraces compassion and eschews fear mongering.”

Claimed by the Islamic State group, Friday’s coordinated attacks targeting revelers at a Paris concert, restaurants and the national stadium left at least 129 dead and raised fears of a similar assault by jihadists on US soil.

paul House speaker Paul Ryan Source: PA

Obama, speaking yesterday at a Turkey summit of the world’s top economies, said it is “very important… that we do not close our hearts to these victims” of violence in the Middle East.

In September, the US leader announced plans to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees by September 2016. The White House stressed the plan carries little risk because there is a “robust” vetting process in place.

The State Department said it was taking the governors’ concerns seriously, and that it was looking into “whether they can legally” block federal resettlement efforts in their states.

Congress faces an 11 December deadline for finalising 2016 spending, and some Republicans want to insert language that blocks federal funding for refugee plans.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose chamber observed a moment of silence yesterday evening for the victims of the Paris attacks, said he is looking at all options.

Amnesty Report

Separately, a new report published today by Amnesty International states that the European Union’s determination to seal off its external borders is “fuelling a range of human rights abuses while doing nothing to halt the influx of desperate refugees”.

The report, Fear and Fences: Europe’s approach to keeping refugees at baynotes that moves to fence off land borders and enlist neighbouring countries, such as Turkey and Morocco, as gatekeepers, have denied refugees access to asylum, exposed refugees and migrants to ill-treatment, and pushed people towards life-threatening sea journeys.

“The expanding fences along Europe’s borders have succeeded only in entrenching rights violations and exacerbating the challenges of managing refugee flows in a humane and orderly manner,” Colm O’Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland, said.

- with reporting by Órla Ryan

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