A Syrian refugee on Monday expressed gratitude toward the United States, but he also made a telling admission — coming to America was not his choice.
Mostafa Hassoun, replete with a red, white, and blue scarf, told CNN’s Carol Costello that he loves America and would not be safe in his home country. But he said he did not choose America. The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees made that decision for him.
“This is not my option to come … I don’t choose that.”
“This is not my option to come … I don’t choose that,” he said. “After an interview with the UNHCR, I received a call from them and told me … my refugee [application would be] accepted by the United States. So that’s why I came here.”
Hassoun said he is grateful to be away from the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the areas of the country under the control of the Islamic State. He said he would be killed if forced to return.
Hassoun also said he received intense scrutiny by UN officials to determine he was not a security risk. He said he would have liked to come to the United States — but not as a refugee.
“I don’t like the refugee word. I’m not happy to be a refugee,” he said. “I would like to come to the United States as, like, a visitor or like as a student, but this is not my choice to come. I don’t choose to be refugee. We don’t have freedom.”
Kyle Shideler, director of threat information at the Center for Security Policy, said there is an important distinction between ordinary immigrants who make an affirmative choice to come to America and refugees whose primary motivation is to flee the crisis they are escaping.
It raises the potential of introducing people into the United States who have profound disagreements with America’s pluralistic society and tradition of religious freedom, Shideler said. He said the U.N. security reviews check to see if refugees have criminal backgrounds or terrorist ties but make no attempt to determine that their values are compatible.
“This is one of the issues at the forefront of critics of the refugee program,” he said. “We don’t actually pick our refugees.”
He added: “This creates a concern … Are we talking about people who elected to be in America or were chosen to come to America?”
The debate over refugees is playing out against the backdrop of President Trump’s executive order indefinitely suspending the Syrian refugee programs and temporarily freezing other refugees and all immigration from seven high-risk countries.
Beyond a potential clash of cultures, Shideler said concerns about organized terrorism are not unfounded. He pointed to comments on Dec. 31 by Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Freihat, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Jordanian military, about ISIS infiltration of two UN refugee camps in the country.
“The number of [Syrian] refugees in Jordan is 1.6 million out of a population of 10 million. Only 600,000 of them are registered with the UNHCR,” he told BBC Arabic, according to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project. “As I’ve said, in the Rukban and Hadallat camps, there are 100,000 refugees. ISIS has sleeper cells there. In fact, ISIS controls these two camps. We used to maintain open borders with Syria, but recently closed them, as a precaution against the terror attacks launched by ISIS from these camps.”
Each of the countries on the list drawn up by Trump is a failed state or has a hostile government. In 2015, 47 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted for a bill to require national security officials to personally sign off on each Syrian refugee admitted into the United States. It failed to overcome a Senate filibuster.
Shideler said the concerns that prompted that House vote in 2015 are no less valid today. He said Congress and former President Barack Obama targeted Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Sudan as countries whose citizens could not make short-term visits to the United States without getting a travel visa.
“These countries were not picked [by the] Trump administration,” he said. “They were picked by the Obama administration.”