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Most Americans welcome refugees despite Orlando attack

16 June 20160 comments

The horrific Orlando massacre has polarised even further public opinion in the US on the issues of migration and providing a haven for refugees from Islamic countries.

A spate of news reports published since the weekend outrage indicate that anti-refugee feeling is running high in some parts of the nation.

Far-right conspiracy theorist, radio pundit and Donald Trump supporter Alex Jones claims the massacre at a gay club in Florida that left 49 civilians dead was “a false flag terror attack” and a consequence of Muslim migration, even though the shooter was born in the U.S.

Mr Jones published a video online shortly after the attack in which he claims the U.S. government purposefully let the shootings in Orlando and San Bernardino happen in order to impose restrictions on free speech and take away Americans’ guns.

Other reports make allegations that refugees are spreading TB in Kentucky and that there are plans for further acts of terror by Islamist extremists in the US.

And, in the wake of the mass shooting, presidential candidate Donald Trump has upped his anti-refugee rhetoric, warning against thousands of Middle Eastern migrants pouring in who pose a threat to the United States.

This despite the fact that the gunman was born in the United States and of Afghan origin, the presumptive Republican nominee thought it appropriate to liken him to the thousands of Syrians seeking safer sanctuary from war and, ironically, Islamic extremism.

But many Americans disagree with Mr Trump, according to a new poll by the think tank, the Brookings Institution.

Conducted in the last two weeks of May, the poll asked some 1,540 respondents whether they would support or oppose taking in refugees from the Middle East’s conflict zones if they were screened for security risks.

Almost 60 per cent said they would support the measure. The United States already has an extensive screening system in place involving multiple government agencies, which vet applications in process that take more than a year.

Contrastingly, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks last November, a Washington Post poll asked respondents: “Do you support or oppose the United States taking in refugees from the conflicts in Syria and other Mideast countries after screening them for security?”

Around 54 per cent at the time said they opposed taking in these refugees.

The new Brookings findings show that, if removed of security concerns, the majority of Americans have no qualms giving sanctuary to refugees from the Middle East, be they Muslim or of any other faith.

It also found that majorities of Americans – particularly younger Americans as well as self-declared Democrats – felt a moral obligation to accommodate refugees from certain warzones, including Syria and Iraq.

Fifty-five per cent of Americans surveyed also believed that refugees would be welcomed in their state or community.

And 70 per cent said they would not become more supportive of the US accepting more refugees should the scheme exclude single men – a rejection of right-wing claims on both sides of the Atlantic that has painted the ongoing crisis as an invasion of job-seeking males.

One of the most interesting findings was that a majority of Americans believe the 2003 invasion of Iraq played a “significant role” in creating the chaos and conflict that provoked Syria’s current refugee crisis.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist