Angelina Jolie: Refugee Policy Should Be Based on 'Facts, Not Fear'

Feb 03, 2017 07:39 AM EST

American filmmaker, actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, who also serves as a special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, stated in an opinion-editorial in the New York Times Thursday it is simply not true that U.S. borders are overrun, or that refugees are admitted to the United States without close scrutiny.

Refugees are men, women and children caught in the fury of war, or the cross hairs of persecution. Far from being terrorists, they are often the victims of terrorism themselves, said Jolie.

"I'm proud of our country's history of giving shelter to the most vulnerable people. Americans have shed blood to defend the idea that human rights transcend culture, geography, ethnicity and religion. The decision to suspend the resettlement of refugees to the United States and deny entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries has been met with shock by our friends around the world precisely because of this record," she proclaimed.

The global refugee crisis and the threat from terrorism make it entirely justifiable that Americans consider how best to secure borders, however Jolie believes every government must balance the needs of its citizens with its international responsibilities:  "Our response must be measured and should be based on facts, not fear."

As the mother of six children, who were all born in foreign lands and are proud American citizens, Jolie said she wants America to be safe for them, and all children. "But I also want to know that refugee children who qualify for asylum will always have a chance to plead their case to a compassionate America," she wrote. "And that we can manage our security without writing off citizens of entire countries - even babies - as unsafe to visit our country by virtue of geography or religion."

Refugees are, in fact, subject to the highest level of screening of any category of traveler to the United States, said the actress, including months of interviews, and security checks carried out by the F.B.I., the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department.

"Furthermore, only the most vulnerable people are put forward for resettlement in the first place: survivors of torture, and women and children at risk or who might not survive without urgent, specialized medical assistance," said Jolie, who has visited countless camps and cities where hundreds of thousands of refugees are barely surviving and every family has suffered.

"When the United Nations Refugee Agency identifies those among them who are most in need of protection, we can be sure that they deserve the safety, shelter and fresh start that countries like ours can offer," she offered.

Only a minuscule fraction - less than 1 percent - of all refugees in the world are ever resettled in the United States or any other country, she said. There are more than 65 million refugees and displaced people worldwide. Nine out of 10 refugees live in poor and middle-income countries, not in rich Western nations. There are 2.8 million Syrian refugees in Turkey alone. Only about 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in America since 2011.

This disparity points to another, more sobering reality:  "If we send a message that it is acceptable to close the door to refugees, or to discriminate among them on the basis of religion, we are playing with fire. We are lighting a fuse that will burn across continents, inviting the very instability we seek to protect ourselves against."

Jolie said current people are already living through the worst refugee crisis since World War II. There are countries in Africa and the Middle East bursting at the seams with refugees. For generations, American diplomats have joined the United Nations in urging those countries to keep their borders open, and to uphold international standards on the treatment of refugees. Many do just that with exemplary generosity, she said.

"What will be our response if other countries use national security as an excuse to start turning people away, or deny rights on the basis of religion?" Jolie poses. "What could this mean for the Rohingya from Myanmar, or for Somali refugees, or millions of other displaced people who happen to be Muslim? And what does this do to the absolute prohibition in international law against discrimination on the grounds of faith or religion?"

She said the truth is that even if the numbers of refugees the United States take in are small, and America does the bare minimum, "we do it to uphold the United Nations conventions and standards we fought so hard to build after World War II, for the sake of our own security."

"If we Americans say that these obligations are no longer important, we risk a free-for-all in which even more refugees are denied a home, guaranteeing more instability, hatred and violence," she wrote.

"If we create a tier of second-class refugees, implying Muslims are less worthy of protection, we fuel extremism abroad, and at home we undermine the ideal of diversity cherished by Democrats and Republicans alike: 'America is committed to the world because so much of the world is inside America,' in the words of Ronald Reagan. If we divide people beyond our borders, we divide ourselves."

"The lesson of the years spent fighting terrorism since Sept. 11 is that every time we depart from our values, we worsen the very problem we are trying to contain. We must never allow our values to become the collateral damage of a search for greater security. Shutting our door to refugees or discriminating among them is not our way, and does not make us safer," she sai.d

"Acting out of fear is not our way. Targeting the weakest does not show strength."

Jolie admitted that everyone wants to keep our country safe. "So we must look to the sources of the terrorist threat - to the conflicts that give space and oxygen to groups like the Islamic State, and the despair and lawlessness on which they feed. We have to make common cause with people of all faiths and backgrounds fighting the same threat and seeking the same security," she said.

"This is where I would hope any president of our great nation would lead on behalf of all Americans."