Posted by Leila Elaqad on May 31, 2016 in Blog

While Syrian refugees make up 25% of the global refugee population, only .003% of refugees admitted into the U.S. since 2011 have been Syrian. Many congress members, as well as Multifaith Alliance members, addressed this often overlooked disparity to a packed room at a Hill briefing on May 17.     

“The worst humanitarian crisis since my parents and I fled Hungary after the Holocaust.” - Georgette Bennett  

Bennett is the president and founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees. As she described the Syrian refugee situation to congressional staffers, she pressed, in a firm voice, for the admission of greater numbers of Syrian refugees into the U.S.

“It is not right for me to ignore the cries of those suffering.” – Dr. Shadi Martini

Martini was the general manager of a hospital in Aleppo. Risking violent consequences, he refused to deny medical care to those injured by the Syrian Army. After one soldier made it clear “we’re not shooting them so you can save their lives,” Martini fled Syria. Today, he is a U.S. citizen and Senior Syria Advisor to the Multifaith Alliance. One has to wonder, if people like Martini can risk their lives to help Syrian war victims, then why can’t the American people welcome them with open arms?

“This is not who we are, this does not reflect our values as Americans” – Rep. David Cicilline

Cicilline (D-RI-1), who has visited the homes of Syrian refugee families resettled into his district, addressed the idea that we should only be admitting Syrian Christians. This idea, he said, “runs against our principles as a country.”

“We have allowed voices of suspicion and hatred and bigotry to turn some of us away from our long-standing commitment to being a beacon of light and a place of safe haven for refugees.” - Rep. Zoe Lofgren

Lofgren (D-CA-19) told the story of the U.S. turning away an entire boatload of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, many of them later killed in concentration camps. She noted that until just recently, there’s been a “bipartisan consensus” to provide a safe haven for refugees.

“People do not come here making false claims. People come here because they see America as a place where they can seek protection.” – Rep. Luis Gutiérrez

Gutiérrez (D-IL-4) pointed out that murderers, rapists and drug traffickers always have legal representation, meanwhile their victims who come to our shores do not. He also noted that, when they do, they win 9 out of ten cases.

“If fear of admitting terrorists is what keeps people from supporting the entry of more refugees to the United States there are simply No. Grounds. For. This.” - Sen. Ed Markey

Markey (D-MA) also addressed the myth of criminals posing as refugees, underscoring the rigorous security screenings that refugees go through.

How Arab Americans Can Help

When I asked the panel what Arab Americans can do to help Syrian refugees, Oscar winner, Homeland actor and MFA member F. Murray Abraham replied that we should display pride for our heritage. He noted that immigrants are hiding their identities and too many Arab Americans are afraid to use their names. Abraham asserted that, in order to fight the stigma that makes Syrian refugees the “outcast of refugees,” Arab Americans must fight that stigma by showing their neighbors that we are proud to be Arab and we are Americans.

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