Making the case for refugee resettlement

Matt Saintsing
March 01, 2018 - 3:39 pm

Photo by Xinhua/Sipa USA

With an unprecedented 65 million people forced to leave their homes, the world is witnessing the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

In "Monsters to Destroy," filmmaker and comedian, Ben Tumin, explores the refugee crisis and the practical reasons for U.S. resettlement. 

And he uses humor. Not an easy job.

The unique show laces together the stories of five Syrian refugees living in Germany with the help of a retired Marine, Scott Cooper, who works in human rights advocacy. 

Tumin's goal is to show the economic and national security impact of refugee resettlement instead of the moral reasons. In other words, he doesn't want to guilt anyone into it, but he does show the human toll and faces of the crisis. 

"I'm trying to reach communities I wouldn't normally rech," says Tumin, adding "It's always been my aim from the outset to frame things in pragmatic terms, because when people frame things in moral terms, that argument doesn't seem to stand on its own."

A key point: refugees are not terrorists. In fact, they're escaping terrorism. 

His performance, which includes video clips of interviews he conducted with Syrian refugeees in Germany, touches on several complex facets of the ever-twisting Syrian civil war. For one, the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad allowed ISIS to carve out a piece of the country in more remote, ungoverned, and now war-torn, parts of Syria when he began cracking down brutally on protestors, and later rebels. 

One student recants his experience escaping Syria: "They started to move a truck and there was only a one small tiny window. There was not much oxygen and I really thought that I’m just gonna die now…and children were crying and some women were also like yelling, and for me it was just more stressful.”

Another says he wouldn't want to return to Syria until the dictatorship falls and democracy is implemented.

One refugee said he had no choice: join ISIS, be killed by ISIS, fight Assad, be killed by Assad...or seek refuge in other countries.

Many of these stories are tragic, but Tumin is able to leverage his humor when he shows a soccer ball to one Syrian and asks what sport it is. "Football," the student says. "Trick question, Americans don't care," Tumin quips back. 

Tumin, a New York City native whose grandfather was a Jewish refugee during World War II, tells the story of Sayfullo Saipov—a Muslim and Uzbek national—who drove his pickup truck down a bike path in Manhattan killing eight and injuring 11 last October. It was the deadliest terrorist attack in New York City since September 11th, 2001. 

Saipov was a terrorist, not a refugee. 

And yet, two days later, Attorney General Jeff Sessiosns gave a speech focusing on limiting refugees as a way to make Americans safer.

"So, why did Sessions cite investigating refugees as proof that the government is keeping dangerous people out? Are refugees dangerous? Do they threaten national security?," Tumin asks.

According to  the CATO institute, not one person from the seven countries included in President Donald Trump's initial travel ban has killed anyone in a terror attack on American soil in the last 40 years. That includes refugees. 

Using humor, Tumin says more Americans have died from cows, than refugees. “Maybe we don’t need a travel ban, maybe we need a travel barn,” he says to a chuckling crowd.

He goes onto argue that providing safety, and a welcome home, for refugees directly fights against ISIS’ narrative. He also includes crime statistics that dispel common notions of refugees being inherently dangerous.

Tumin's story takes a personal turn, something he didn't intend, when he finds connections from his own families' experience as refugees, to that of his interviewees. Some of his ancestors were able to flee the rise of Nazi Germany when his great-great uncle, who Tumin says was "brilliant," found a way to America. Others were sent to concentration camps in Europe. 

Then, there’s the economics of it. Tumin mentions studies that show refugees are a net positive for the economy, and not taking away jobs from native-born American workers. 

According to the New York Times, one study conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services last year found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in government revenues than they used.  The study was rejected by the White House.

The presentation, which is set to travel throughout the nation, highlights his practical approach and places a human face on the brutal refugee crisis. 

“There are pragmatic reasons to resettle refugees,” he adds. 

The cap for refugees resettled in the U.S. is about 40,000, but in 2018 the United States has settled just five so far, and only 38 since the fiscal year began last October. The Syrian civil war has produced more than 5.4 million refugees since 2011, according to officials familiar with the resettlement process.

Scott Cooper, the director for national security outreach with Vets for American Ideals, is featured in video clips and attended the event. He spoke to Connecting Vets about resettling former Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked their lives working with the U.S. military.

“They’re among the bravest and most decent people I’ve ever known,” said Cooper, a retired U.S. Marine Corps aviator who served five deployments to Iraq and two to Afghanistan.

“Having seen a veteran welcome his interpreter to America, you’ll never find a more touching story.”