The Syrian Refugee Crisis - Interview with an Aid Worker - How to get Involved
Many of you know that our brother/brother-in-law has served with several different humanitarian organizations helping those impacted by the Syrian war. He has been working in the region for the past 4+ years with time in Syria, Turkey and Lebanon - where he currently works and lives with his wife (also working in humanitarian relief).
I reached out to him to ask a few questions ahead of hosting Syrian violinist and peace activist Mariela Shaker (amazing evening Saturday if you missed it!). The questions with his responses are below (he asks that you read them as non-cynically as possible), and will hopefully shed some helpful light on the situation from his first-person viewpoint and encourage us all to see how we can be involved in helping from back home. If you're wondering how to use your own voice to advocate, check out a few of the resources after the interview questions.
Question: If American's could know/learn/understand one main thing from what has happened in Syria since 2011-2, what would that be?
To be honest, I think our mom said it best. She said that "It always seems to be the same news coming out of Syria, and it is always getting worse." It's very true. The terrible war has been made worse by the fact that it's now in its eighth year. Though the US has now decided twice to respond to chemical weapons with limited strikes, the daily and well-documented targeting by Assad and Russia of hospitals, schools, and other clear civilian targets has been ignored. Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for more military involvement. I would rather the US focus more on what we can do at home. With more than 50% of the population of Syria displaced by the conflict the US took in only 11 Syrian refugees this year, while in previous years we have taken in thousands. Let's not pretend that a response to the chemical weapons attacks absolves our responsibility from tackling the larger crisis.
Question: What is one or two things that we can do today, on this side of the planet, as individuals that will have a positive impact on the continuing crisis in/around Syria?
For the last five years my answer is the same - work within your local community to encourage understanding, acceptance, and eventually political movements that will re-open the doors of the US to refugees. Here in Lebanon, a country the size of Connecticut, 1 in 4 people are refugees, but the fabric of distinctly-Lebanese culture is strong and unmistakable. I often hear anti-refugee sentiment in the US stating that "if we allow in thousands of refugees, America's culture is at risk." Our country is built on immigrants. It is our national identity. I don't understand how people can forget that. If you don't think that Syrians fit in America...check out this list of Syrian Americans which includes people from Paula Abdul to Steve Jobs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_Americans#Notable_people
Question: What do you think America is actually doing well in the context of world politics/policies today?
Oy. Tough question. In the absence of clear policy, coherent strategy, steady leadership, or even the basic step of filling important diplomatic positions, it's hard to see that the US is interested in having a powerful voice in international affairs (except for on twitter, of course). It will take our country a generation to repair the damage in our foreign service.
Arsal Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon. Copyright Benoit Chattaway.
Last Question: Do you have any other insights/stats/information that would help us begin to grasp the daily realities of IDPs (internally displaced persons) or Syrians within Syria?
Don't focus on the IDPs in Syria - it's heartbreaking and terrible but the best way to influence them is by keeping the pressure on our government at home to support them through official relief channels. In most cases, I think that local actions are by far the most important. Advocate in your communities, churches, and local groups to encourage the conversation about the positive benefits of refugees. Take a look at the overwhelming research on refugees contributing to the economy. Learn about the history, culture and success of Syrian refugees and immigrants who have come to the US. Connect with a Syrian in person. Become a friend of a Syrian. Talk to a Syrian.
Some Ideas of how to Get Involved
Empowerment often starts with education.
Wondering just what US policy is towards refugees for 2018? Here's a summarized document prepared for congress
that shows how detailed and fully vetted the process will be in 2018. Curious how 2018 figures compare with prior years for US refugees? It's striking and outlined here by the Pew Research Center
. Wondering how YOU can be an advocate for refugees?
We've put together a few resources to point you in the right direction as there are many opportunities! We Welcome Refugees
is a great place to start. If you are a person of faith, check out their "Seeking Refuge: God's Heart for Refugees" 7-day devotional.
Another idea of how to take action
is by reading and signing this petition
created by the United Nations Refugee Agency to encourage decision makers around the world to act in 2018 with solidarity and shared responsibility.
Have other resources and ideas to share - please do in the comments below. Thank you. Colin & Emily Co-Founders www.boughtbeautifully.org
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