Boston Stands with Syria/Syed I. Rashid
By Ibrahim Rashid, CAS’ 19
As did many others, the photo of Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body on the beach drew tears from my eyes and stirred anger in my heart. How could we let him die? This question haunted my conscience for days only to be magnified in moments of my own frustration. My problems felt insignificant compared to those Aylan faced. When I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach and a community to call my own, even the slightest complaints seem wrong when refugees have had all of these things taken away from them. Aylan’s picture made me feel worthless and angry. There must be something I can do.
As if someone had answered my prayer, I saw an event on Facebook titled, “Boston Solidarity with Syrian Refugees.” The description read:
“We are holding the vigil not only to mourn and comfort each other, but also to restore faith in humanity by offering a glimpse into what good people are doing to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself.”
At the rally, Bostonians of all ages demonstrated their support for the refugees by brandishing posters, delivering speeches and partaking in the ceremonious candle lighting and moment of silence. Amongst the feelings of euphoria and unity lay a communal desire to shift the people’s perceptions about the plight of the refugees.
The attendees of the rally faced a range of criticisms concerning the highly contentious issue of settling refugees in America. For example, many argue that accepting refugees from Syria will only provide radical Islamists a means to enter the United States by masquerading under the guise of a refugee. Furthermore, there are those who assert that individuals claiming to be refugees are simply economic migrants, considering that many have forged their identification documents hoping to obtain refugee status. This is done with the expectation that they will get some sort of leniency while immigrating into their host country, allowing them to find better job opportunities. However, the biggest argument against the settling of refugees lies with who has the burden of responsibility. Seeing as a vast majority of these refugees are coming from far away countries in Africa and the Middle East, many spectators ask why the American government should use its own resources and money to take care of these refugees instead of focusing on its own citizens .
One individual who I had the honor of interviewing was Ms. Jennifer Grace, a nurse who worked with Flying Doctors of America on two separate medical missions, where she partnered with The Human Doctor Project, conducted by the International Federation of Medical Students and Jordan University of Science & Technology in northern Jordan.
In our interview, she thoroughly refuted each argument proposed by critics by drawing upon her personal experience treating Syrian refugees fleeing ISIS and the Syrian Civil War while simultaneously providing valuable insight into the conditions that refugees face every day.
She explained to me that many refugee camps in the Middle East lack sufficient funding, which affects their access to basic resources such as medicine, clean water and electricity. This, coupled with the fact that they live in over-crowded housing with little to no access to schooling or job opportunities, illustrates why many refugees will risk their lives on the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe or America. They simply want a better life for both themselves and their families free from the fear of starvation, disease and persecution.
Ms. Grace spoke about one specific individual she encountered on her last trip to Jordan who embodies this feeling of desperation:
“I have a Syrian friend from Damascus who was trying to finish his college but couldn’t [due to the Civil War]. The other day he posted on Facebook, ‘This is my 24th day of failure’ and I wrote to him asking, ‘Why is this your 24th day of failure?’ to which he responded, ‘I can’t go to college and I can’t work. I feel worthless.’ I later found out that he had spent three months from March till June planning a long 21-day trip to Greece. His plan was to leave Jordan by boat, train, and then plane. However, when he ran out of money, preventing him from taking a plane from Turkey, he decided, in desperation, to swim across the Mediterranean for 12 hours straight just to get to Greece… This is a young man who wants to go to school to become a business lawyer and have a normal life again. This is how desperate these people are. They’re not going to let their race die; they want to work, they want to be educated, they want to have a life so badly that they’re willing to risk it all! This is why they’re leaving and doing what they’re doing. “
It is individuals like Ms. Grace’s friend whose story is reflective of the decisions that many refugees face every day. While it is true that there is a possibility that some might exploit this refugee influx to gain better economic opportunities, this should not be the reason why we prevent all refugees fleeing persecution from being allowed into the United States. Similarly, the fear of radical Islamists should not prevent refugees from being allowed to settle in America, especially considering that many of the Islamist insurgents are far too occupied fighting their own battles in the Middle East to come to the United States.
On a larger scale, the United States must take in more refugees due to its status as a world super power and a regional player in the Middle East. Currently, the United States is leading an air campaign in Syria to confront the threat of the Islamic State. However, this has the inadvertent effect of further crippling the remaining Syrian infrastructure, causing people to flee their homes to escape the violence. Since the United States is only further escalating the violence, it is their responsibility to take care of the people affected by their decisions .
The war in Syria is a catastrophe that could have happened anywhere in the world and just by chance, the Syrian people are the ones bearing the brunt of this conflict. These refugees simply want a better life for themselves and their families. Every day, these refugees make a decision between death by ISIS or Assad and death on a boat across the Mediterranean. Death is almost guaranteed in both cases, but at least across the Mediterranean there is some glimmer of hope. If these people are willing to risk everything they have, then it’s clear that the only reason why they’re coming is because they have no other option. And if that’s the case, then it is our moral responsibility as human beings to take care of our fellow man. Because if we don’t, who will?
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 Schmitt, E., & Gordon, M. (2015, October 4). U.S. Aims to Put More Pressure on ISIS in Syria. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/05/world/middleeast/us-aims-to-put-more-pressure-on-isis-in-syria.html?_r=0
 Smile, D. (2015, September 14). The argument against compassion: Europe and the refugees. Retrieved October 7, 2015, from https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/daniel-smilov/argument-against-compassion-europe-and-refugees