Idaho town split over fear of refugees

Twin Falls, Idaho, is under the national spotlight after deliberate misinformation was spread about three young migrants who allegedly sexually assaulted a 5-year-old girl.

The boys are ages 14, 10 and seven, thereby barring the release of any significant information about the incident and sealing the case from public record, according to a news release from the office of Wendy J. Olson, a U.S. Attorney for the District of Idaho.

Olson said in the news release that false reports had been circulating about the circumstances of the incident, most claiming the girl was gang-raped at knife point by Syrian refugees.

The juveniles allegedly committed sexual assault, not rape, by urinating on the girl, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. There was no knife on the scene. Two of the boys were from Sudan, and one was from Iraq.

Emmilie Whitlock, the founder of Rexburg for Refugees and a faculty member in the communication department, said those who are against refugee resettlement in Twin Falls have accepted some false information as truth and have used it to support their anti-immigration views.

“It was awful reporting and it was super biased,” Whitlock said. “I think a lot of people are fearful because they are watching the news about radical Islam, and they connect it with the Muslims moving into their backyards.”

Whitlock said the whole incident becomes far less controversial when a person is educated about who refugees really are and about what really happened.

“People think that refugees are just granted refugee status like it’s no big deal, and that is not the case,” Whitlock said. “It takes years of security clearances and a very thorough vetting process. They don’t even know where they are going or if they will even end up in the U.S.”

Whitlock said that while refugees should be treated like any American, they should not be placed on a pedestal either.

“If these children are committing this crime, then action needs to be taken, but I think it’s dangerous to say ‘Oh, just refugees are doing this,’” Whitlock said.

Vladimir Orlov, a junior studying healthcare administration, said he can relate to the situation most refugees and immigrants are in because he is in America solely as a student.

“I consider myself a person that got stuck between two different worlds because I’m not quite fully here as I’m not yet a citizen, and I certainly am not back there in Russia, and so I am in-between,” Orlov said.

Orlov said the troubles refugees and immigrants face when leaving their home country are more than just learning a new language or becoming accustomed to a new culture — it is being thrown into a place where their relationship with society is completely different.

“We don’t realize how much our identity is rooted in our culture,” Orlov said. “We don’t realize how much it shapes our perceptions and our identity until we have to leave it all behind and live in a totally different environment, and this is what refugees experience.”

Whitlock said people need to be more educated about the facts of refugee life because it is the American people who will ultimately create the kind of relationship they have with refugees.

“The communities that surround the refugee resettlement centers are going to be the determining factor on how these refugees are going to respond,” Whitlock said. “If they are treated like animals or threats, some of them are going to believe that. We are going to create these problems in our society because of our intolerance and our lack of compassion and, in a lot of cases, our lack of education.”

Orlov said people need to treat everyone the same regardless of their circumstances or their culture.

“We need to learn to relate to them and see the world through their eyes because then our own world can be enriched, and we will be able to develop mutual understanding and respect,” Orlov said. “The U.S. Constitution states that we’re all created equal, and it’s not just people within this country; people all over the world are created equal.”

Copyright 2015 BYU-I Scroll