Madeleine Albright, Who Came To America As A Refugee, Slams Proposal To Ban Syrians



After recalling her own childhood fleeing Czechoslovakia, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters Wednesday that she was appalled at political calls to ban Syrian refugees from the United States in the wake of recent terror attacks in Paris.

“These proposals are deeply disturbing to me on many levels,” she said, expanding on a four-paragraph essay she wrote for Time earlier this week. “I cannot and do not pretend to liken my situation to Syria … But I do know what it’s like to leave your home and travel halfway around the world seeking refuge.”

While she said she could not imagine what it was like to be a Syrian fleeing during a prolonged period of deadly terrorism, she said the American political discussion of rejecting refugees “is just plain wrong and sends the wrong message.” This week, Politicians across the political spectrum have called for halting the Syrian refugee program, fearing that terrorists could pose as refugees in order to sneak into America and commit more crimes.

Albright said the political focus on refugees was misplaced — one, because none of the terrorists in Paris have been identified as either Syrian or refugee, and two, because it distracts from other potential solutions to the violence and unrest in Syria.

“[Politicians] are right to focus on how to defeat terrorists,” she said. “But that focus risks being overtaken by the divisive and counterproductive debate on refugees. … [which runs] contrary to American values, and would do nothing to strengthen our security.”

Albright’s comments came about a week after she celebrated her 67th anniversary of arriving in America as a refugee. She expressed gratitude for her family’s acceptance last week on Twitter:

Madeleine Albright


67 years ago today my family and I arrived in America as refugees. #refugeeswelcome (1/2)

On Friday’s call with reporters, she expressed similar sentiments.

“When people ask me what is the most important thing that ever happened in my life, it was becoming an American,” she said. “I always hesitate to mention I was a refugee … I definitely was … I know what it’s like to leave your country and try to make a new life.”

As the daughter of a diplomat, Albright acknowledged that the process of being accepted into America was much easier than it would have been for a regular person — and even easier than those coming from Syria, who face what many consider the most intensive vetting process in the world. But she also recalled that her family had to wait longer than expected because it was the beginning of the McCarthy era, when fears of communism ran high.

“It was kind of a minor example of what happens when people hyper-inflate something that is not an issue that effects those coming into the country,” she said.

Albright expressed confidence in the U.S. screening process, and said calls to ban refugees from the country were driven by fear of Muslims (most of the refugees coming from Syria are Sunni Muslims) and a lack of information on the process. She discreetly accused Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson for aiding that fear when he compared Syrian refugees to “rabid dogs.”

“I find it stunning that there’s a candidate who compared these people to dogs,” she said. “I can tell you that dogs in America are treated better than some of these refugees, who cross the ocean and drown.”


Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress