Snyder puts Syrian refugee efforts on hold

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Gov. Rick Snyder is halting his administration’s efforts to bring refugees from war-torn Syria to Michigan following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Islamic State terrorist group, which has strongholds in Syria, has claimed responsibility for the attacks Friday on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafes that left 129 people dead and more than 350 wounded, 99 of them seriously.

Snyder said Sunday he was halting efforts to make Michigan open to more Syrians seeking political asylum in the United States

“Michigan is a welcoming state and we are proud of our rich history of immigration. But our first priority is protecting the safety of our residents,” Snyder said in a statement. “Given the terrible situation in Paris, I’ve directed that we put on hold our efforts to accept new refugees until the U.S. Department of Homeland Security completes a full review of security clearances and procedures.

“There will be difficult days ahead for the people of France and they remain in our thoughts and prayers. It’s also important to remember that these attacks are the efforts of extremists and do not reflect the peaceful ways of people of Middle Eastern descent here and around the world.”

In Michigan, Syrian-Americans said they were upset with the move.

Leith Fadel of Dearborn said most Syrian refugees are law-abiding and are being judged by the actions of a terrorist who may have slipped into Paris as a refugee.

“They just want a better life,” said Fadel, 26, who said most of his relatives remain in Syria. “They haven’t done anything to warrant this.”

Ziad Sahloul of Dearborn said his relatives in Syria suffer from a litany of problems: little water, food shortages, electricity that comes and goes.

They’re desperate to move to the United States or Europe but no one wanted them, even before the terrorist attack, said Sahloul. Now it will be harder than ever to escape their fate, he said.

“I’m just praying for their safety,” he said.

On Saturday night, Republican state Rep. Gary Glenn of Midland issued a news release urging Snyder to reverse course on seeking more refugees from Syria.

“We should not rush to offer an open door to the high-risk importation of individuals from a known hotbed of Islamic extremism who security officials say cannot be safely screened to identify and block jihadists masked as ‘refugees’ who’d love to bring suicide vests and grenades to Ford Field or Fisher Theatre or Great Lakes Crossing,” Glenn said in the statement.

Snyder decided Saturday to halt the Syrian refugee initiative, spokesman Dave Murray said.

Snyder’s administration has been in talks with the federal government since at least September to speed up the process for someone from Syria to relocate in southeast Michigan.

The Detroit News reported Sept. 21 on the story of a Syrian family that waited 19 months to get clearance to leave Turkey and resettle in Detroit.

About 4,000 refugees from war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa resettled in Michigan last year, according to data from the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement. In addition to Syria, refugees are coming from Iraq and other regions controlled by Islamic State militants.

In September, President Barack Obama’ administration initially committed to accept at least 10,000 more Syrian refugees during the next year. The U.S. will accept 85,000 refugees from around the world in 2016, up from 70,000, and that total would rise to 100,000 in 2017, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced earlier this month.

The United States is on track to accept about 1,500 Syrians this year, according to the White House, but that’s a fraction of the 11.6 million people who have been displaced by the brutal 41/2-year civil war in Syria.

The move to suspend the efforts drew the support of U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, who said in a statement Sunday that she has “cautioned against the administration’s decision to increase the number being admitted into the U.S.”

“The fact is, as evidenced by Friday’s horrific attack in Paris, terrorist organizations like ISIS are looking for any and every opportunity to exploit a nation’s hospitality to carry out their barbaric attacks against the innocent. Anyone who says we can adequately and safely vet these refugees is wrong because there is no database in Syria and no way to identify who’s who.

“America has a long, proud history of helping refugees from across the globe, and we will continue to help. However, in doing so, we must make certain that we are not jeopardizing the safety of our citizens.”

Associated Press contributed.