Arab Americans Rally Around Refugees

Posted by Shadi Matar on November 25, 2015 in Blog

Arab Americans around the country organized around the Syrian and Iraqi refugees this week as a wave of 30+ Governors and dozens of Mayors announced that they would not support refugees entering their states in cities. Although these elected officials have no legal authority to stop the refugees resettlement they can make it more difficult for them to secure state funding. 

California: Arab Americans in Southern California are standing up for refugees and welcoming them into their community. Rashad al-Dabbagh the co-founder of the Arab American Civic Council spoke on the positive impact that refugees have on communities. “They know the good work and positive contributions that our communities have done all over the region.” Read more about California.

Florida: Jacksonville is home to the fifth-largest Syrian population in the United States and many local Floridians are speaking out against Governor Rick Scott (R-FL) [NA1] and Mayor Lenny Curry amidst their decision to join nearly 30 Governors who spoke against bringing in more refugees. George and Carol Mackoul are Arab Americans who live in Jacksonville and spoke about the reasons why their families came to Jacksonville. “They came here for economic reasons, for freedoms to practice their religion and for the opportunity that American gave.” Read more about Florida.

Illinois: Reverend Jesse Jackson standing alongside the Arab American Democratic Club spoke at the Orland Park Prayer Center in support of refugees coming to Illinois. Jackson described the rhetoric of the politicians who are turning away refugees as “Un-American” and “Wrong”. Read more about Illinois.

Michigan: Leaders from the Arab American and Asian American community in Michigan spoke out against Governor Rick Snyder and his decision to halt the resettlement of refugees in Michigan. Former Michigan Representative Rishida Tlaib expressed her disappointment with the Governor “We expect more from you. This sends the wrong message.” Read more about Michigan.

Maryland/Washington, DC:  On Saturday, a rally in front of the White House was organized by two young Maryland Arab American activists hoping to raise awareness of the plight of the Syrian refugees. They were joined by a group of over 100 people of different backgrounds and faiths to convince Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to reconsider his stance on Syrian refugee resettlement in the state of Maryland. Read more about Maryland.

Massachusetts: Last Friday, over 1,000 protestors joined together at the Massachusetts State House to express their disapproval of Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to suspend Syrian refugee resettlement in the state.  Governor Barker’s  stance may be changing perhaps due in part to the attention this matter has received, and the more information he has received about the vetting process. Nadia Alawa, who heads NuDay Syria, a humanitarian relief organization focused on women and children’s immediate needs, underscored to the crowd the need to come together during this time and to open their hearts, and doors, to refugees fleeing horrific circumstances. Read more about Massachusetts.

New Jersey: On November 15th, there were interethnic and interfaith efforts to help Syrian refugees in Highland Park and New Brunswick, NJ. Arab Americans and Syrian refugees, among many others, participated in the “Take Ten Campaign,” which advocates for New Jersey communities to resettle 10 refugee families from the Middle East or North Africa region. This campaign aims to advocate for more refugees to be accepted into the United States, something that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his state will not be doing, not even for “orphans under age 5.” Read more about New Jersey.

Pennsylvania: Since the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, there have been an alarming number of elected officials who have come out against resettling Syrian refugees. With the exception of Senator Pat Toomey and a handful of others, several Pennsylvania lawmakers want to continue welcoming refugees, including Governor Tom Wolf, Senator Bob Casey, Jr., Mayor Bill Peduto of Pittsburgh, current Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Mayor-elect Jim Kenney. President of the Syrian Arab-American Charity Association, Ayoub Jarrouj, hosted Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski for an event where the Mayor refused to participate in anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry, stating, “We are not going to let fear guide our public decisions.” Read more about Pennsylvania.

Texas: After the attacks in Paris, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings stood in defense of refugees fleeing the violence in their countries. Mayor Rawlings stated that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry is what ISIS wants in order to drive a wedge between our societies. Rawlings also stated that “ISIS is no more Islamic than Nazi Senior staff was Christian, and we have got to differentiate between those.” Read more about Texas.

Virginia: Roanoke, VA Mayor David Bowers cited national security concerns about ISIL, and all but applauded the internment of Japenese citizens and nationals during World War II, as his reasoning for denying Syrian refugees refuge in his city. Read his written statement from November 18th. Delegate Sam Rasoul organized a rally in response to this bigotry and over 250 people came to show support by listening to his speech and providing food, clothing and other resources for a charity donation. Read more about this story. Continue reading more about Virginia.

West Virginia: West Virginia does not appear to be a state tapped to take in Syrian refugees by the federal program, but that is not prohibiting advocacy efforts by Ibtesam Sue Barazi, a Syrian American, and Syrian and Lebanese American John Ellem, who are both trying to change the narrative with their own families’ stories, as well as educate people, about the Syrian refugee resentment program. Organizing efforts are also underway in West Virginia, with a rally planned for November 24th, and a number of Arab Americans plan to participate, along with myriad people of different ethnicities and religions. Read more about these efforts here