My view of US immigrant, refugee policy shaped by my 9/11 experience in tiny Canadian town

Being an American refugee during the 9/11 attacks opened author Kevin Tuerff’s eyes to the immigrant and global refugee crisis. He is author of the new book: “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11” and his story is included onstage in the Tony-award winning Broadway musical “COME FROM AWAY.”

Kevin Tuerff will do a book reading from “Channel of Peace” at 6pm Thursday, June 30 at Drama Bookshop, 250 W. 40th St., New York City.

With terror attacks occurring in America on 9/11, my trans-Atlantic flight from Paris to New York was diverted to the nearest airport, on the North Atlantic island province of Newfoundland. It was only a few days that I was stranded in Gander, Newfoundland, but I was considered a displaced person because I couldn’t go home due to hostile conflict. We weren’t looking for asylum in Canada, but like refugees, we had no food, clothing, shelter or information. Canadians in this town of 9,000 didn’t have to let the 6,500 travelers (from 40 countries) off airplanes into their small town. But they opened their hearts and homes to strangers from abroad.

What if another terrorist was on one of those 38 diverted flights? After all, there were Muslim Arabs among the 6, 579 passengers. Gander Mayor Claude Elliott said, “We never gave it a second thought. We needed to help these people with food, clothing and shelter during a time of an emergency.”

Today

Today, the small town of Gander continues to inspire others across the world with kindness. In 2016, despite a lack of resources, churches held bake sales and other fundraisers to raise enough money to bring refugee families from Syria to their community. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is publicly welcoming refugees who are properly vetted through an 18-month, 5-step security screening which begins with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the Middle East.

On June 26, the US Supreme Court approved allowing the Trump Administration to restrict immigrants and refugees from six predominant Muslim countries from entering the country. It sure seems like it’s based solely on fear of religion. That’s called Islamaphobia.

According to the Cato Institute, there are zero reported terror attacks by Sryrian or other refugees. The United States accepted more than 130,000 refugees from Iraq, for example, since 2007. No terrorist violence has been committed by any of them since arriving in the country. Are we allowing fear to take precedence over caring for the stranger?

Although more than 4.8 million Syrians are refugees living outside of their country, the US State Department has only resettled some 16,000 Syrians (Feb. 2016). Thinking back to success stories of helping Vietnamese boat people and Kosovo war refugees in America, that number seems awfully low. According to Refugees International, the two-year screening process for refugees lucky enough to come to America is one of the most strict in the world.

In both the Jewish Torah and Christian Bible, we’re told, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Let’s unite to inspire kindness, especially among the world’s record 60 million displaced persons and refugees. Of course we should prioritize security of the homeland, but this shouldn’t be an all or nothing solution. There is room for compromise without blanket travel bans and funding cuts to refugee resettlement agencies.

Twenty-five percent of net proceeds from purchases of “Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11 will be donated to Gander Refugee Outreach Project. Join me in supporting this local effort, as well as international efforts by Refugees International.

“Channel of Peace: Stranded in Gander on 9/11", published by River Grove Books, is available for purchase online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Read more in Chapter 8, “What now? Kindness and Refugees” of the book.

About the Author

Kevin Tuerff­ is a social entrepreneur with 25 years of experience in marketing communications. He has founded a college radio station, a national recycling awareness day, an international kindness initiative, and a certified B Corporation environmental marketing company. He is passionate about finding solutions for climate change and refugees. Kevin’s hometown is Austin, Texas. You can follow him on Twitter @channelof_peace or on Instagram @Channel_of_peace_book.