What others say: Alaska should open its doors to refugees

  • Tuesday, September 29, 2015 8:58pm
  • Opinion

At this moment, thousands of refugees are fleeing some of the worst places on Earth — Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, among others — and streaming into Europe in search of relief. These refugees are crossing dangerous seas and taking massive risks to leave their homes because the places they used to live have become unlivable, torn apart by the ravages of war.

Desperate throngs of refugees are flooding various countries, and much of Europe is now being forced to cope with a flood of humanity unlike any the continent has seen since the end of World War II.

This crisis might seem like a far-off event that has little to do with Alaska or the Mat-Su Valley, but that’s far from the case. As a member of the global community, the United States has as much obligation as any other country — some would argue more of an obligation — to help these unfortunate souls. Recently, President Obama announced he would increase the number of Syrian refugees allowed into the country, and this is a good step toward doing our part to ease the crisis.

According to Catholic Social Services, the state welcomed 185 refugees from a variety of countries in 2015. That’s not enough — not by a long shot.

Although the U.S. State Department is responsible for assigning refugees to various cities and states for resettlement, there’s nothing stopping Alaska Gov. Bill Walker from requesting more be sent here. Such a request would send a clear message that Alaskans want to do their part to help.

Blessed with a remarkable amount of resources, Alaska is in a unique position to do more to help refugees find a better life. The state has the lowest population density of any U.S. state (just 1.2 people per square mile), a massive reserve of cash (there’s over $50 billion in the state’s Permanent Fund) and natural resources such as fish, timber and hydrocarbons that dwarf those in other states. These advantages make the state a perfect place for refugees to resettle, and Alaskans should begin pushing immediately for more to be brought here.

The Mat-Su Valley itself has a proud tradition of welcoming new settlers to the region. In the 1930s, the Valley was colonized by Midwestern farmers desperate to leave Depression-era towns in search of a better life. Those original colonists have much in common with the refugees of today in that they only wanted to find a place where their families could live, work and prosper.

According to Catholic Social Services, most refugees who come to Alaska are highly productive members of society. The agency reports 90 percent of employable refugees in its resettlement program were gainfully employed and that within their first year in Alaska, 89 percent of refugee families needed no public assistance.

Along with bringing hard-working new members to our community, more refugees could also give the Valley a much-needed injection of racial and ethnic diversity. Although much of Alaska is quite diverse, the Mat-Su is not, with nearly 84 percent of our residents identifying as Caucasian. Additionally, the Valley’s population is made up of just 3.4 percent foreign-born residents, compared to 7 percent for Alaska as a whole. New immigrants would expose the Valley to new cultures, languages and traditions that could enhance our region’s social and ethnic character.

Alaska has a long and proud tradition of being a welcoming place for new residents; aside from Alaska Natives, most of us arrived here either as recent transplants from other states or as members of families who moved here within the past 100 years.

A decision by Alaska leaders to request more refugees be sent here would send a clear message that our state is eager to open its doors to the desperate and would acknowledge that our people are willing to do their part to ease a crisis that’s the responsibility of all global citizens.

It’s the Alaskan thing to do.

— Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Sept. 18

More in Opinion

This Aug. 3, 2021, photo shows Juneau International Airport.  The Federal Aviation Administration shared recommendations on Thursday for improving aviation safety in the state. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: How the FAA will improve the margin of aviation safety in Alaska

Alaska depends on aviation more than any other state…

Central Peninsula Hospital is seen in Soldotna on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
Voices of the Peninsula: Perspective of an educator in a ‘high-risk’ group, part 2

During some of the darkest days of my time in ICU, it was obvious where we all live is a special place.

Lawmakers havereturned to the Alaska State Capitol for a fourth special session. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Revenues should be determined before more PFD spending

The governor believes the dividend drives the entire calculation. Sadly, he has it backwards

Ronnie Leach. (Photo provided)
Point of View: For Domestic Violence Awareness Month, #weareresilient

At the onset of COVID-19, we expanded our services in a way to ensure COVID-19 consciousness.

Rep. Don Young talks during a June 2021 interview with the Empire. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion:Where’s Don Young when America needs him?

Once upon a time, avoiding political controversy was completely out of character for Young.

Peter Zuyus
Voices of the Peninsula: Seniors appreciate vaccination efforts

To those who have worked to encourage vaccination we say: Be proud, you are, in fact, saving lives.

Jackson Blackwell (courtesy photo)
Voices of the Peninsula: Carbon dividends are the bipartisan climate solution

By levying a gradually increasing price on carbon, U.S. emissions will be slashed by 50% in 15 years.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy holds a press conference at the Capitol on Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Dunleavy: Facts Matter

Political opportunists care more about spreading political untruths than accepting the facts.

Steve Hughes. (Photo provided)
Voices of the Peninsula: We are all victims of COVID-19

It is disturbing to hear, as a triage nurse, the many reasons cited for not getting a vaccine that are based on misinformation.

teaser
Opinion: LGBTQ+ Alaskans deserve respect and dignity

Like every state that lacks equality, we need federal protection.

Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships. (logo provided)
Point of View: September is National Recovery Month

The biggest challenge when talking about recovery is the truth that one… Continue reading

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is seen in this Dec. 19, 2019 file photo. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Opinion: Alaska will greatly benefit from historic infrastructure bill

I was able to add many provisions to our bipartisan bill that are targeted to help Alaska.