February 10, 2017

Podcast: Security Benefits of Refugees, Risks of “Safe Zones”



Earlier this week, Matthew Gault with the Reuters War College podcast interviewed me on the security implications of President Trump’s “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” executive order. I was asked to outline the security risks of not accepting refugees, and why the establishment of “safe zones” in Syria and Yemen could be dangerous. The podcast built on earlier work I’ve done on both topics, making the argument that the United States risks more in not accepting refugees than it does resettling them here.

In 2015, The Hill ran my op-ed on why the United States be at a greater risk by not accepting refugees than it would in sheltering them. The op-ed laid out the strict vetting process for refugees and the incredibly low risk of terrorist attacks by refugees. It outlines how relying on large, underfunded refugee camps can both strain regional U.S. allies and play into narratives of radicalization. Additionally, the location of resettlement is an integral part of determining how susceptible a refugee is to radicalization. Relying on nearby countries to take in refugees ignores the fact that many of those countries have the characteristics that would expose them to greater risk. Further destabilization in the region will not make the United States safer. Last spring, I used the Nahr Al-Bared refugee camp as a case study for how long-term, ungoverned refugee camps can be used by extremists for operations.

More recently, I wrote on the dangers of trying to implement “safe zones” in Syria and Yemen. “Safe zones” would require a significant ground presence, lest they become death traps for those they were meant to protect. The slaughter of Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica during the Bosnian War is an example of what can happen when there is insufficient protection around a “safe zone.” If left to fester—with inadequate water, food, or other supplies—safe zones can also play into radicalizing messaging used by extremists to recruit.

It is also important to remember how different the refugee crisis is for the United States than for Europe. America can undertake greater vetting of people entering, given both its geographical location and smaller the number of people entering. The United States is also better at integrating immigrants, which helps reduce risks of radicalization.

Unfortunately, the President’s executive order will likely not make America safe again.

Listen to the podcast here.