Vermont should welcome refugees from the war in Syria, says a coalition of groups and individuals who are critical of what they call a backlash against refugees after attacks in Paris last week. Gathering on a chilly, dark evening in Burlington, a group of about two dozen people called for solidarity with those who are seeking refuge from the war in Syria.
"We should not close our hearts and our doors to those who are fleeing persecution and trying to have a better life," said Yacouba Jacob Bogre, executive director Association of Africans Living in Vermont. AALV, Vermont Interfaith Action (VIA), Rights & Democracy and the Vermont Workers Center participated in the event.
Reports that one of the Paris attackers may have entered France under the guise of seeking asylum has prompted many U.S. politicians to call for stopping Syrian refugees from coming to the U.S., or tightening the vetting process to approve their entry. Bogre says the vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S. is significantly more stringent than the process for getting a tourist visa to come here.
The Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program says the current vetting process for refugees coming to the U.S. takes about 1,000 days and involves several background checks.
As children climbed on a stone sculpture that spells "Democracy" in puzzle pieces, adults spoke about the need to have compassion for Syrian refugees. "It was fear and hatred that caused the horrors in Paris, and for us to react in a similar way only compounds that horror," said the Rev. Debbie Ingram of VIA. She called the political effort to halt refugees from coming to the U.S. "morally wrong."
Burlington Rep. Kesha Ram, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, added her voice in support of refugees settling in Vermont.
Tuesday, both of Vermont's Republican gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott and Bruce Lisman, said they would like Vermont to stop accepting refugees until security concerns are addressed. Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that the state should offer assistance to refugees instead of turning them away.
In the coming year, 350 refugees are expected to resettle in Vermont says Amila Merdzanovic, director of the Vermont Refugee Resettlement Program. She says her agency does not know yet if that number will include refugees from Syria. The war in Syria has created 4.2 million refugees since it begin in 2011, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
Update: A previous version of this story omitted Rights & Democracy as a participant in Thursday evening's event.