This Crisis Does Not Discriminate: You Could Be A Refugee, Too

*Featured in Kairos: the official undergraduate magazine of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University —

Syria: a land so full of rich culture and civilization, a land that welcomingly took in refugees from Europe following the Armenian Genocide and the Jewish Holocaust, a land of historically accepting people. Fast forward to the year 2016, and the world’s largest refugee crisis since World War II is getting bloodier and more devastating by the hour. As an international community, we have failed the Syrian people, and the least we could do is own up to our lack of humanity.

Following Tunisia’s spark of outrage which started the Arab Spring, those who lived under tyrants such as Gaddafi, Mubarak, and Assad also took to the streets to demand what every human longs for: freedom, equality and justice. As each country’s post-Arab Spring outcome is distinct, Syria’s has been the most difficult to watch. A 21st century civil-turned-Proxy war between the country’s government forces and rebel groups, along with Daesh’s terror and foreign intervention added into the equation, has led to Syria seeing devastation on many different levels. According to UNHCR, more than 470,000 Syrians have been killed, 4.7 million are registered as refugees, and an increasing number of 8 million citizens are displaced inside the country.

As the 2016 election comes to its final stretch, let us not forget the crucial importance of this crisis’ role in the span of this political climate. Ben Carson’s appalling comparison of Syrian refugees to dogs, Ted Cruz’s call for a “religious test” (honestly, how would that even work?) to sort out Muslim refugees from entering the country, and Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims confirm the undying imperialistic views evident in modern day American politics. An overwhelming number of Republican figures who ran for 2016’s presidential bid have exploited the situation of Syria’s refugee crisis to further their political agenda. Constant fear-mongering, usage of Islamophobic statements, and the outright dehumanization of a children-majority and women-majority refugee crisis have plagued America’s media outlets. As political giants showed their true colors by immorally attacking Syrian refugees, the viral photo of Aylan Kurdi took the world by shock. Pictured was a 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on the shores of Turkey, amidst the heavy struggle of refugees resorting to taking to sea in order to escape their war-stricken homeland. This heart-breaking image showed exactly what this current-day refugee crisis is: a fight to survive.

Many governors have voiced their unapologetically prejudiced narrative to ban Syrian refugees from seeking asylum in their respective states. Governor Chris Christie’s harsh words have echoed throughout various news outlets, firmly stating that Syrian refugees should not be allowed into New Jersey, not even “orphans under age 5.” This dangerous rhetoric villainizes children, many of whom have lost their parents and have no one with nowhere to go. Technically, Governor Christie cannot rule refugees from staying out of New Jersey. However, in April, he announced that the state would withdraw from the refugee resettlement program, not offering state resources or agencies to assist those in need (giving the responsibility to nonprofit organizations). However, Syrians have resettled in the Garden State as early as 2013, fleeing Assad’s rule right before the refugee crisis escalated to a mind-boggling volume.

The majority of Syrian refugees who arrived in New Jersey have been living in Elizabeth and Jersey City, although there are families resettled in other towns and cities within the state. As different mosques and churches have opened up to supporting these families through clothing drives and fundraisers, many are still struggling both financially and emotionally. In an interview with NPR, Syrian-American Kenan Chater, along with his 8-year-old son Mahmoun Chater, discussed the awaited arrival of their family members at Newark International Airport. As refugees who fled to Thailand at first, their move to America has Kenan Chater anxious to help his family in any way he can. The emotions of this story have reflected largely on the setback many Syrian children have faced, due to their continuous absence from education, because of the war. When asked how he would welcome his younger cousin to the States, his response was, “It’s a nice place. Everybody’s kind. There’s no war. There might be a place where you can go to school. He only went to school for first grade. That’s it.” Mahmoun continued, saying that his cousin is lucky to be alive after witnessing two bombings happen to his school. The shock and horror that many of the young refugees faced while in school, whether losing their best friend or teacher, may have a triggering impact when they finally get back into the classroom. Schools are usually used as safe havens during times of war, but in Syria, many schools have been subject to cowardly and ruthless attacks.

So, what makes us Americans think that this situation is exclusively a “Muslim” problem (although Syria is a country made up of Christians, Jews, Druze, and many more religious groups) or an “Arab” problem? By definition, a refugee is “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” For those who are unaware, Syria was once known for its prestigious universities (some of the first in the world), which produced many of the planet’s best doctors, lawyers, and educators of academia. What possesses the American people to be so close-minded and arrogant to believe that we could never be in this situation? Have we really become so numb that we cannot sympathize with exhausted mothers placing their weeping children into faulty life jackets and onto frail boats?

The intensive vetting process to enter the United States as a refugee takes at least 18 to 24 months, with a 50% acceptance rate of applicants, half of them being children. Within the past year, thousands of Syrian refugees have quietly settled in America, marking the 10,000th refugee in late August. It’s fair to say that most Americans are not even aware of this number, which is small in comparison to the millions of refugees and to other countries’ large intake of refugees. The reality of dangers Americans actually face lie in other atrocities, such as the statistical evidence of mass shootings perpetrated by U.S.-born citizens, most of whom are white males.

Refugees are not dangerous, and it is time that we put an end to the delusional hysteria. If one day we found ourselves fleeing the country we call home, wouldn’t we want to be taken in by those who pride themselves on being from a land of “liberty and justice for all?”

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