Kansas Lieutenant Governor Jeff Colyer has just returned from a visit to refugee camps on the border of Syria and Jordan. Colyer accompanied Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who went to witness the situation first-hand as people flee the conflict in Syria. Colyer, who is a plastic surgeon, has spent years as a volunteer offering his services in war-torn parts of the world. He told KPR’s Stephen Koranda that he first visited the Syrian refugee camps several years ago.
Colyer: And they were literally having to put up thousands of tents every day and people living in these tents. These are people that have left everything behind. It's doctors. It's a plumbers. It's widows. It's kids. At this point, most of the people though, most of the refugees, actually are not in camps. Most of the people are actually living in Jordanian apartments in villages and cities across the country there. They have 1.4 million refugees, just from there alone. One of the things that Jordan has had to do is they have so many kids now that the Syrian kids go to the Jordanian schools in the morning, and then the Jordanian kids go to school in the afternoon. They are overwhelmed.
Koranda: So is that your takeaway from this? One of the best ways to help these people is to help them return home?
Colyer: When you talk to Syrians, they need help with medical care, schools, housing. They need the war to end and they want the war to end. It's going to take a long time unfortunately. But people, when you talk to them, they tell you “we want to go home.”
Koranda: Of course, the administration signed an executive order saying the state will not help relocate any Syrians here to the U.S. citing terrorism concerns. What is the concern there? What's the issue with bringing some of these refugees here to the U.S.?
Colyer: Well, I think there's two things. One is, ISIS said they will use refugees to infiltrate Europe and the United States, and they have done so. The administration and the U.S. Congress have said we want to make sure that we have appropriate security checks on anybody coming here. But I think there's one more important thing, which is this: We are talking about four million refugees. And by taking just ten thousand people here to the United States, that's a drop in the bucket. That's not going to change things realistically on the ground. We need to help them there.
Koranda: When we're looking at bringing families here, women and children included, is there really that risk of terrorism with some of these refugees?
Colyer: This is the role of the federal government. The federal government is to clear people that are here. ISIS has said “we are going to use refugees to infiltrate Europe in the United States.” And so let's let D.H.S., the federal government, go and clear people and screen them properly.
Koranda: You talked about a lot of these refugees wanting to go home, but clearly they made the effort to escape their country. Is it also fair to say some of them surely would be interested in coming to another place, possibly the U.S.?
Colyer: Of course, but all of the Syrians that I've spoken to said they want to go home. They want to be with their families. They want the war to end.
Koranda: Some religious officials here in Kansas see it slightly differently. We've had a United Methodist Church bishop, we've had some Catholic bishops say we should be opening our country and helping these people under the ideals of religion, helping people in need. What do you think of those arguments?
Colyer: You know, the governor and I have been very supportive of refugees coming to the United States. Bring me your tired, your poor, your downtrodden who are yearning to breathe free. And that's the point. How can D.H.S. go and properly screen refugees? I believe that they can and (should) look at a proper way of doing that. The U.S. Congress has passed a law saying that we should do that and I think that's very reasonable.
Koranda: If we're not taking refugees here in Kansas, how can we as a state, how do we have an impact here in Kansas?
Colyer: What we can do is we can have a big impact on the ground. There are a number of organizations that are working there on the ground. Organizations like Mercy Corps, International Medical Corps, I.C.R.C., the Red Cross. And they can help people a lot. You can do that by giving money, (that) is the easiest thing to do this holiday season.