Thursday, January 26, 2017

Public needs truth about "threatening" refugees
Donald Trump’s “extreme vetting” is underway, revealed yesterday in a draft executive order that calls for a 30-day halt to entry of travelers from certain countries, like Syria and Iraq, whose citizens “would be detrimental to the interests of the United States.” (New York Times, Jan. 25)

As discouraging as the ignorance and xenophobia reflected in this order may be, we can still be comforted by much of the reporting about these restrictions.

A number of news outlets, like the Guardian, Slate, and the Washington Post, have run pieces that reflect the truth about refugees—that they are not a threat. The Migration Policy Institute in 2015 noted that the U.S. “has resettled 784,000 refugees since September 11, 2001. In those 14 years, exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.”

Expanding on this, the Washington Post ran an insightful video yesterday titled “Syrian Refugees to Trump: We are not terrorists.” It follows the heart-wrenching story of how a family escaped the war back home and now wants nothing more than to live their lives peacefully.

A similar story was told in a Jan. 26 Kansas City Star article titled, "KC refugee's message to Trump: We are good people." The article quotes one refugee resettlement official who said, "This is devastating to refugees both here and overseas who will be deprived the opportunity to have a safe life and future for their children."

A Jan. 6 "This American Life" public radio story tells a related tale, but this time about Iraqis who are seeking refuge in the U.S. The catch—these would-be immigrants all helped U.S. military forces during their occupation of Iraq. As a result, these Iraqis are being targeted and killed by extremists. Do we owe them something? One interviewee said, “They risked our lives to keep me and our Marines safe.” Should these Iraqis be “extremely vetted?”

In Slate, Joshua Keating reports about the deplorable conditions that the would-be refugees are fleeing. He writes, “This (executive order) will do far less to deter violence, extremism, and terrorism than punish victims of those forces. In fact, many of those needing asylum are fleeing some of the very same groups the U.S. is fighting.” The article goes on to cite statistics from the seven banned countries. This includes: “more than 2.5 million people in Libya are in need of protection or assistance; how in Somalia, there are alarming rates of malnutrition and food insecurity, exacerbated by a crippling ongoing drought; and how hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Sudan by armed conflicts.”

In fact, these examples all reflect the principles of peace journalism, the idea that reporters and editors should make choices that create an atmosphere more conducive to peace, and, in this instance, produce more balanced and sensitive refugee reporting.

In my book “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices,” I’ve included a chapter about covering refugees and other displaced persons. I list these guidelines for covering refugees:

--Avoid spreading propaganda, regardless of the source.
--Don’t use language or images that rely on or reinforce stereotypes, racism, sexism, or xenophobia.
--Humanize individuals and their stories. Look for examples that illustrate larger statistics or trends.
--Proactively investigate and report refugee stories that offer counter-narratives that debunk stereotypes and challenge exclusively negative narratives.

The American public, regardless of their political leanings, needs objective, comprehensive, truthful information about refugees. We have seen the consequences when the public instead is fed a diet of misinformation, lies, and hysteria.

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