Posted by Kristin McCarthy on October 26, 2015 in Blog

The Arab American Institute kicked off its National Leadership Conference in Dearborn, Michigan with a day of programming that underscored the need for the United States to resettle more Syrian refugees and do more to alleviate the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and across the Middle East.

The program started with a video message from U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) about his work on policies impacting Syrian refugees, which was played for the conference attendees to begin the programming.. Senator Durbin has been a long time leader in Congress calling for the U.S. to do more for Syrians fleeing conflict and disaster. In 2014, when the conflict was already 3 years old but the U.S. had accepted less that 100 Syrian refugees into our borders, Senator Durbin called an important and transformative Senate hearing to press the administration to do more and change the conversation that was happening in Congress about the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria. Earlier this year Senator Durbin called for the Obama administration to resettle 65,000 refugees by the end of 2016. Since the conflict in Syria erupted, Senator Durbin has stood up for the American values that we as a nation should be most proud of – but values that are tested time and again. In his message, Senator Durbin stressed that the current refugee exodus is “the humanitarian crisis of our time.” Sen. Durbin advocated for the U.S. to establish safe-zones and begin peaceful dialogues to end the conflict and stop the displacement of Syrians from their homes. Sen. Durbin reiterated the need for the U.S. to take moral leadership in resettling refugees in much larger numbers than currently promised.

Following Senator Durbin’s remarks, Dr. James Zogby (Arab American Institute) and Michael Wahid Hanna (The Century Panel_Zogby_Hanna.jpgFoundation) started a broad discussion of the causes of the refugee crisis and how the 2016 election cycle is intersecting with the current U.S. foreign policy agenda. Hanna articulated a historical reality that the current crisis is not confined to Syria, but Yemen in particular is an issue that is under-covered in U.S. media and advocacy circles. The U.S. can and should do more in Yemen now that we are in aftermath of the Iranian nuclear deal. And the lasting humanitarian impacts of the Iraq war are still waiting to be addressed, including many Iraqi refugees and translators who are yet to be resettled in the U.S. despite our commitments to do so. Hanna also spoke about the importance of de-escalation efforts through peace, as opposed to military-led efforts.

The audience engaged in the discussion through questions that focused on how to help Yemenis, how to change the political rhetoric from fear to compassion, and what exactly the U.S. is and is not responsible for in the Middle East.  The panel and audience spoke at length about the need to de-politicize the refugee question, and the need to strongly condemn the fear mongering coming from presidential candidates who are trying to say Syrian refugees are a threat o the national security of the United States.

This panel gave a firm foundation of the regional dynamics that contribute to the refugee problem that has displaced over 6 million people and has effected it’s neighboring countries as well as Europe and the United States.