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Syrian Refugees Face Many Challenges When They Try To Resettle


And when Paris was attacked last fall, it was revealed that one of the suspects came into Europe with a wave of refugees crossing the Mediterranean from Greece, many of whom were Syrian. In response, many governors here in the United States threatened to ban Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, and that made things a lot tougher for the man we're going to hear from next. He's Matthew Soerens with World Relief, an evangelical Christian organization that's been working to give Syrian refugees a fresh start in the U.S.

MATTHEW SOERENS: Back in November, when all of a sudden a lot of states were saying, we don't want Syrian refugees, refugees from all different countries heard, no more refugees in our state and were really afraid. They thought they might be sent back to a situation of war, persecution. And especially for people who've already been traumatized, you know, that can actually be really challenging, to face the fear of potentially being sent back. I don't think that's a legitimate fear. It's just mostly political rhetoric at this point. But that's not always easy to understand.

GREENE: You think it's political rhetoric - because it seems like many Americans are afraid that maybe people from countries that have been seen as supporting terrorism shouldn't be allowed into the United States. Those fears seem to be resonating with a good number of Americans.

SOERENS: No, those fears are very real. I don't doubt that. And I should also say, I understand that. You know, I see an image like that picture of Alan Kurdi, the little boy washed up on the shore of a beach in Turkey, that went all over the world last September. And my first reaction is, I look at his little Velcro shoes, and I think about my 1-year-old son, who has little Velcro shoes. And as a father, I can't help but feel compassion.

But then, I think in a subconscious moment, I also start to think about what on earth is he running away from? And what sort of horrific, terrible thing would compel a father to get on that boat? And how do we keep it from coming out to us? I understand that fear. It's actually really rational. What's not rational is to presume that that's associated with the refugees themselves who are fleeing persecution.

GREENE: You know, you have evangelicals and people who are religious who are members of your organization. I mean, if someone is sort of really struggling with this, if they hear Donald Trump sort of raising these alarms but also being told by you, listen, this is a responsibility you have as a Christian to help people, like, how do you tell someone to sort of find that balance?

SOERENS: We rely on literally thousands of volunteers, most of whom are - come to us through local churches. And they do so because they're driven by their Christian faith and by the many commands in Scripture to love their neighbor. And when Jesus talks about loving your neighbor, he makes very clear in the parable of the good Samaritan that that doesn't get defined narrowly as someone from your same ethnicity or your same religion. And you know what? The Samaritan on the side - who helped the guy on the side of the road, he probably did put himself at some risk.

So on the one hand, I'm not even sure those questions should matter. But on the other hand, in the United States, you really don't have very much to worry about. The security risks are very minimal. There's no evidence that the refugee or settlement program is a significant concern there. Part of that is certainly the vetting process. The other part of it is that those refugees who arrive are met at the airport by a volunteer, by an American who wants to welcome them. And it's really hard to believe ISIS's lie that Americans are your enemy or Christians are your enemy or whatever when those are the people who've welcomed you.

GREENE: But this does seem to put some people in a difficult position in a year like this.

SOERENS: Yeah. And I think, honestly, for a lot of American Christians, especially American evangelicals - and I'm an evangelical - who tend to be more politically conservative, it's a difficult time because, on this particular issue, what the candidate of their political party - and, certainly, you know, he's not universally popular, even among Republicans.

He is saying things about refugees that are very different than any other Republican president has ever said and, I think, are very different than what the Scriptures teach us, which is that each person, including every refugee, is made in the image of God with incredible potential and with inherent human dignity. And if we're going to respect life - and, again, that's a value for a lot of evangelical Christians from womb to tomb, we would say - then we need to be concerned about the lives of refugees as well.

GREENE: Matthew, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

SOERENS: Yeah, it's great to be here.

GREENE: That's Matthew Soerens from the organization World Relief. He's also co-author of the new book "Seeking Refuge." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.