TEANECK — Local residents and activists who have protested U.S. military action in the Middle East and Afghanistan weekly for a decade turned their attention on Wednesday to refugees, calling for the nation to take in people who have been victimized in conflicts in those areas.
The activists, who include local residents and military veterans, said the United States should help because of its tradition of humanitarianism and welcoming immigrants, but also because of this country’s role in conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.
“Republican candidates and governors have said we don’t want refugees from that region, but U.S. policy has actually created a lot of the refugee crisis,” said Paula Rogovin, co-founder of the weekly vigil, which marked 539 consecutive weeks on Wednesday.
She added, “It’s a terrible thing to say that your country is responsible for creating such a crisis, but it’s true and we have to take responsibility.”
The vigil was held outside the Teaneck Armory at the corner of Teaneck and Liberty roads, where eight people stood with signs and a bull horn, getting some honks of support from passing cars. The vigil participants included members of the Bergen County chapter of Military Families Speak Out and Veterans for Peace, Chapter 21.
The group also chose to focus on refugees to counter the heated rhetoric about those coming into the United States from Syria, participants said. Some governors and Republican presidential contenders, including New Jersey’s Chris Christie, have argued that the United States should not take in Syrians because terrorists could be hiding among them and because they don’t trust the screening process.
The Obama administration, though, has argued that refugees must go through a long and thorough vetting process and that the United States has a moral obligation to help.
Norman Fisher, of Teaneck, who was at the vigil, agreed that the country should offer help. “That’s what this country is about – people coming here to better their lives,” he said.
Frank Wagner, a Vietnam veteran, said the Iraq war sent millions of people fleeing to neighboring countries while the war itself “created monsters over there with ISIS.”
The people fleeing just want safety, he said. “They’re human beings,” Wagner said. “Whether they’re from another part of the world, who cares?”
Gov. Christie has said he does not want Syrian refugees placed in New Jersey due to security concerns, but he has acknowledged that he does not have the power to stop their resettlement because immigration is handled by the federal government and not states. So far, around 80 have been resettled in New Jersey since the start of the conflict there nearly five years ago.
Altogether, millions of people have fled fighting in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan amid war, bombings and the spread of the Islamic State extremist group.
Article first published on NewJersey.com