Prairie Politics

Colyer: U.S. should help Syrian refugees overseas, not bring them to America

TOPEKA – Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, having just returned from a visit to Jordan with Ben Carson, contended Monday that the United States should focus on assisting relief efforts in the Middle East rather than bringing refugees to the U.S.

When Colyer met Carson in Topeka in September, he told the presidential candidate about his volunteer work at a refugee camp in Jordan near the Syrian border last Christmas. Colyer then joined Carson on a trip to two refugee camps in Jordan over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“There are 4 million refugees, and when you go and you talk to them, they want to go home. They want to go back to their families. That’s where they want to go. That’s what the refugees will tell you,” Colyer said in an interview in his Capitol office.

The U.S. plans to welcome 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country next year. That has ignited intense debate following terrorist attacks in Paris where one of the gunmen is alleged to have posed as a refugee.

Gov. Sam Brownback signed an executive order instructing Kansas agencies to not cooperate with federal officials in resettling refugees in the state.

“And when you have 4 million refugees, bringing 10,000 – less than 1 percent of them – isn’t going to affect things,” Colyer said. “The real issue is: How do we help them where they are?”

Colyer, a plastic surgeon, first volunteered with the International Medical Corps in 1985 during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and has continued to work for the organization in conflict zones around the globe since then. He said he performed surgery on children who had been injured in the Syrian civil war last year when he worked in Jordan.

He said the best thing individual Kansans can do to support refugees is to donate to organizations, such as the Red Cross, that are involved in relief efforts closer to Syria.

Religious leaders in Kansas, however, have criticized the Brownback administration for its approach to the refugee crisis. Last week, the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church published an open letter to Brownback calling on him not to “let fear dictate our actions when considering our approach to welcoming Syrian refugees.”

“Doing so not only hands terrorists a victory but also hardens our hearts toward those who have already endured much suffering at the hands of both their own government and the terrorist group Daesh, or ISIS,” the letter stated.

Colyer said Syrian refugees pose too great a security risk. He said the Brownback administration supports a bill, which has passed the U.S. House, that would require the head of the FBI, secretary of Homeland Security and director of national intelligence to certify that every refugee from Syria and Iraq is not a threat before they could be admitted to the country.

Colyer said that he did not plan on getting involved in the presidential race despite joining Carson on his journey to Jordan.

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