Tennessee, Treat Refugees as Equals

Refugees in America

This is an open letter to Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee, and those who are opposed to refugees and immigrants seeking asylum in the West, regarding the treatment and rights of all asylum seekers.

I have always been incredibly proud to be from Tennessee.

For the past five years I’ve been living abroad in Egypt and Germany while working and pursuing my master’s degree at the American University in Cairo.

When people ask me where I’m from I immediately respond “Tennessee” because I identify with what was once known as the Tennessee lifestyle: helping others, being kind to all and sharing everything.

However, in Berlin I am ashamed and horrified with the news I am seeing concerning the refugee crisis. I have witnessed Germany accepting more than 700,000 asylum seekers this year, and yet you, along with dozens of other state representatives, are wanting to refuse refugees the chance to live.

I ask you, and the citizens of Tennessee, to do the following.

Remind yourself what it means to belong to the Volunteer State.
Gov. Haslam, are we not the “Volunteer State”? Shouldn’t we volunteer to step up and open our hearts to those who need help the most?

You should proudly promote the fact that we have many immigrants and refugees living in our state who contribute in a positive way to our society daily.

Use appropriate terminology when addressing the refugee crisis and ISIL.
Please stop using the term ISIS, the name of many women throughout the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) who do not want their birth names associated with the terrorist group.

You should request that other governors, politicians and citizens use the Daesh (a word the terrorist group hates, which could also be used as an insult) or the term ‪‎ISIL instead.

Condemn the “Christian” tests requested by GOP presidential candidates.
Religion tests to examine the hearts and determine the motives of every refugee? This idea is as shameful as the measures ISIL takes to control innocent Syrian lives. We must not lose sight of our morals and values; otherwise we will be no better than ISIL.

Judging desperate groups of people for their religious beliefs and cultures should not be ideologies that America promotes.

Be confident in the American integration and screening processes for refugees.
We need to trust in the extremely high levels of screening, which has been highly developed and respected for decades, the ‪refugees will undergo before their arrival. The U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have built effective and secure measures that keep our own citizens safe while assisting asylum seekers.

What’s the harm in letting them stay if they undergo intensive integration processes, which include taking American culture and English courses, similar to successful ones set up by the UNHCR and government officials in Germany?

Middle East cuisine

Educate yourself about the MENA region and culture.
Perhaps you’ve not spent time in the MENA or maybe you cannot fathom the small details that make all the difference in homesickness — the bread, music, bedtimes, ways of greeting and praying are all so different (and absolutely beautiful)! Try to understand that many refugees are doctors, chefs, teachers, scientists and carpenters.

They could help our society become more successful and diverse if we allow them stay in a peaceful place, similar to ones they once knew.

Despite the Paris attacks, President Francois Hollande of France remains committed to taking in 30,000 refugees in two years, as he believes it’s the honor and duty of his country. Let us, as Tennesseans and as Americans, take part in that duty to help the refugees so they could thrive. So they could live.

 

Note: This content was originally featured on The Tennessean and was written by a concerned Tennessean who has studied and worked in the Middle East and North Africa.

 

Whitney Buchanan

Whitney Buchanan

Middle East Collective Founder

Whitney Buchanan is an American analyst on Gender Issues and MENA Affairs, currently based between Cairo and Berlin. She is also the founder of the Middle East Collective.

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