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12 Responses To Your Crazy Uncle's Thanksgiving Questions About Refugees

It's actually not all as simple as people make it out to be, so bear with us as we attempt to break it down.

Posted on November 24, 2015, at 12:21 p.m. ET

The attacks on Paris that have left at least 130 dead have stunned the world and left people grasping for some meaning in the wanton death.

Loic Venance / AFP / Getty Images

As a result, several state governors in the U.S. have announced that they would try to block Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill calling for a halt in refugee flows from Syria and Iraq until the U.S.' law enforcement agencies could guarantee they aren't a risk.

The attacks are sure to be a huge conversation point over the next few weeks, including over Thanksgiving dinner, where you're surely going to hear some things that you might find yourself questioning.

Santi Palacios / AP

With that in mind, here's some information — the best we have so far — that should prepare you for whatever comes your way:

1. "Why are all these people fleeing anyway? Can't they just stay wherever they're coming from?"

Zein Al-rifai / AFP / Getty Images

When American politicians talk about refugees lately, they mainly mean refugees from Syria. More than 300,000 people have been killed in the war in Syria, which started as a peaceful revolution in 2011 that was brutally cracked down upon by Syria's ruthless leader, Bashar al-Assad. Now it's an all-out civil war, with various rebel groups — some backed by the US, some with ties to al-Qaeda — fighting Assad and each other.

2. "Well can't they just stay in their region? Or Europe? That'd be better for everyone involved."

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More than four million Syrian refugees have registered with the UN since 2011 — meaning more than one out of five of all Syrians have fled their homes since the fighting started. Most are in Turkey and Lebanon actually — and Europe is taking a bunch, some better than others.

3. "Why isn't anyone doing anything about ISIS? Can't we just go over there and take them out?"

John Moore / Getty Images

First of all, most refugees are actually fleeing Assad's bombing. But yes, several countries — including the U.S., France and the UK, as well as Russia and Iran — are taking military action against ISIS right now. But while ISIS is the enemy everyone loves to hate, the goals of these various countries differ enough to make the mission muddled. Russia and Iran both support Assad staying in power while the U.S. and others want to see him go, preventing more cooperation.

4. "We should be taking the fight to ISIS though, why won't the United States lead?"

John Moore / Getty Images

The U.S. and other members of the coalition it's assembled (including France and the United Kingdom — but not Russia) have launched more than 8,000 airstrikes against ISIS as of Nov. 12, though mostly in Iraq rather than Syria.

The Iraqi Army, Kurdish forces, U.S. special forces, and Iranian soldiers and special forces are all fighting ISIS on the ground, but that still hasn't proved enough for an easy win so far.

5. "All the refugees that we're talking about are from Syria and probably terrorists, so shouldn't they be banned?"

Raad Adayleh / AP

Let's put this this up front: that line of thinking is straight up Islamophobic and if you weren't worried about, say, Christians during the height of the IRA's attacks or any number of homegrown terror attacks, you need to take a step back.

The vast majority of the refugees that have fled to Europe this year have been Syrians, yes, but there are also Afghans, Eritreans, and others in the mix. Part of the reason the number of Syrians is so high is because they — along with Iraqis — are the ones caught up in Assad's war and ISIS' rampage.

The number of Syrians that have made it to the U.S. is much lower — fewer than 2,000 total.

6. "But weren't the Paris attacks carried out by terrorists who snuck in as refugees?"

Franck Fife / AFP / Getty Images

Based on everything we know that French intelligence officials have released, none of the attackers are or have connections to Syrian refugees.

One of the attackers was reportedly registered as a refugee on the Greek island of Lesbos, a popular port of entry for Syrian refugees. But Germany's Minister of the Interior has said the passport that was found was likely planted. The majority of attackers were born in the European Union and lived in Belgium.

That said, the incident is making Europe confront that it is possible that ISIS could use refugees to get fighters across borders, something it's avoided to prevent stirring up anti-Muslim and anti-immigration sentiments.

7. "The U.S. should definitely stop taking in refugees, though, until they can be properly vetted, right?"

Odd Andersen / AFP / Getty Images

The U.S. has actually taken in relatively few Syrians over the last few years.

Those the U.S. has taken in were accepted as the end result of a very lengthy process, which includes pre-approval from the United Nations' refugee agency.

But it's not a perfect process. The heads of both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have worried about the ability of the U.S. — given the current lack of information coming out of Syria — to check every person who applies for refugee status.

8. "Shouldn't we focus on getting Christian refugees into the country? They're the ones most in danger."

Jean-philippe Ksiazek / AFP / Getty Images

Despite the recent surge in conservative politicians suggesting this, it isn't a very Christian suggestion, as a prominent conservative leader in the Southern Baptist Church told BuzzFeed News last week.

As for whether or not Christians in Syria and Iraq are more in danger than other groups who don't fit into ISIS' narrow ideology, that's up for debate. In Syria, where Christians made up 10% of the population before the war, many — though clearly not all — of them have backed Syrian President Assad for his secular views. Most of them are now concentrated around the capital of Damascus, which Assad still controls.

The story is different in Iraq where soon after taking Mosul last year, they expelled the city's large Christian population. The U.S. doesn't, however, screen refugees based on religion.

9. "Why should we keep taking in refugees when most of them getting into the U.S. are fighting-age males without families?"

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As the State Department told BuzzFeed News, in actuality only about 2% of the Syrian refugees in the U.S. fit those exact adjectives. And, again, everyone who is let into the United States as a refugee is heavily screened.

10. "Won't ISIS attack the U.S. next now that they've carried out this attack in Paris?"

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A video released on the weekend claiming to be from ISIS made specific threats against Washington, D.C., promising the same sort of attack that the group took credit for in Paris.

But Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson on Sunday told NBC that there's nothing that indicates a looming attack. “We have no specific credible intelligence about a threat of the Paris type directed at the homeland here,” Johnson said. “We are always concerned about potential copycat acts, home-born, homegrown, violent extremism of the types that we’ve seen in recent months and years.”

11. "I don't want refugees flooding my state, though, can't my governor stop them from coming in?"

So it seems Alabama has taken 0 Syrian refugees

Despite the promises of a majority of state governors, the federal government is claiming they don't have the power to bar Syrians specifically. The number of Syrians having entered the various states are also nearly negligible.

12. "But what about the 200,000 Syrians that Donald Trump has said the U.S. wants to bring in?"

Scott Olson / Getty Images

Trump's numbers are — like several other of his statements throughout the rest of the campaign — untrue, in this case the result of some faulty math.

Facing criticism for not doing enough to help Syrians, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced in September that over the next next fiscal year the U.S. would take in an additional 10,000 refugees from Syria. That comes along with a pledge to increase the total cap for refugees from 100,000 per year by 2017, with similar numbers of Syrians coming in up until that point.

(As a comparison, Germany has taken in about 57,000 refugees, mostly Syrians, this year.)

Trump's number seems to come from thinking all 200,000 refugees making it to the U.S. in 2016 and 2017 will be Syrians, instead of 30,000 tops. But it seems like 200,000 is becoming a meme. Sen. Rand Paul is also picking up on the larger number now, making the argument that 30,000 becomes 200,000 when those who arrive invite their families.

Bottom line, this is a complicated situation, but there's no reason to not pass along facts along with the turkey this week.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.