Hope for the Future

Most of my family lives in Faribault, Minnesota, a small town in the Southern part of the state. My parents grew up there, my grandparents still live there, and I spent my formative years going to elementary school there.

It would be misleading to classify Faribault as an ultra-diverse town since the vast majority (82%) of its population is white, but it is home to a substantial number of Somali refugees.

This fact isn’t too surprising when you consider that one third of the US’ Somali population lives in Minnesota (mostly in St. Paul, an hour north of Faribault), but still their arrival was a shock to many of Faribault’s residents.

The average Faribault citizen did not know anything about Somali culture, which has caused many misunderstandings and conflicts to arise over the years. This “Us vs. Them” mentality is only perpetuated by the fact that the Somali community is very much separate from the rest of the community, at least when it comes to the adults.

There is quite a different story when it comes to the children. No matter how different their cultural backgrounds or life experiences may be, all of Faribault’s children have one thing in common: school. When a child goes to school they are given the opportunity to learn and play side by side with people who may be different than them. This teaches respect and acceptance, lessons that are important for everyone to learn, no matter their age.

Knowing that children are being exposed to things that will make them into more tolerant adults gives me hope for the future.

When I was in Darmstadt, a Syrian man asked me if I thought America could ever be as open and accepting of refugees as Germany has been, and I think that, although we definitely have some work ahead of us, this shows that it’s possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a final Note…

It’s not uncommon to hear of a college student studying abroad. I have met so many individuals that study abroad and take art or engineering classes to further their degree while gaining worldly experience. However, I would not say a typical study abroad experience would include meeting with refugees to record their stories digitally. I have noted in previous posts, that I went to Germany with excitement and curiosity. I had no idea what exactly I was going to experience.
What I would continue to experience would alter my world and transform my momental curiosity into something that will be long-lasting. It was spark an interest in myself and gave me a deeper perspective into myself, my peers, those I’d meet, and the world around me. I could take away from this trip a sense of purpose.
Prior to this trip, I had not specifically known what I wanted to do with my degree in communications. I juggled several thoughts and ideas of how I could you my set of tools. Some were lacked purpose, while others would include working with a non-profit. I left for Germany deciding to not worry about it, thinking it will come to me accordingly. Sure enough, while studying in Darmstadt, the organic process began. After spending times with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, asking them questions, hearing their stories, and trying to understanding what it is like to live a life outside of my own. 
These experiences have lead me towards a path of advocacy. I would like to work with others on a interpersonal level and help to continue to share their stories. To help be a platform for those voices and project their experiences and perspectives. I want to continue amplify the importance of story-telling and why it is vital to eliminate violence and instead promote peace and understanding.
Not only has this trip helped meto unveil a path to my future in terms of a profession, but also that of travel and asking questions. While I’m Germany, it became clear to me that people are afraid to ask questions. Maybe it is out of fear of offense, maybe it is out of social anxiety, or even fearing their honest response. But asking questions is the best way to learn. It’s an honest curiosity and I learned how vital it is to push boundaries respectfully. By doing so, I have learned so much about the world and the people I met. As a result, I gained a great insight about the refugee crisis, what it means to be a refugee, and even created intimate friendships with these people. 
I never want to stop traveling, meeting people, hearing their stories, or sharing mine. This trip to Germany was merely a chapter to a book that has yet to be written. What I took away from this journey was one of both personal growth and a better understanding of the world around me.

 

REsearch

I had never really thought about the word research until I was working on this post. If you take the prefix literally, you are searching again. I don’t know if that’s fitting for most research, but my research on Syria and the ongoing civil war is definitely searching again. I didn’t have much of an idea of what led up to the current situation in Syria before this trip though I had done some research. Now, after talking with some Syrian refugees, this re-search makes a bit more sense. There is so much about the Syrian Civil War that is difficult to comprehend. Here’s my attempt to convey my basic understanding of the situation in Syria.

How did we get here?

Bashar al-Assad, his regime, and some graffiti artists. Assad has been Syria’s president since July 2000, though his role would not accurately be described as president. The only way was Assad’s way: his political party became the only political party, and individual rights and freedoms were limited. In March 2011, a group of students was arrested for political graffiti. The regime responds to protests, resulting in dozens of deaths. Those events set things in motion: Syrians continued to protest unjust treatment, and unfortunately the regime continued to behave in the same ways.

Refugees at a UN site

How long has this been going on?

Most agree the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, when the first notable amount of refugees started to arrive in bordering countries, as represented in this visual. More specifically, this is marked in April of 2011 with over 5,000 refugees arriving in Lebanon. The timeline below includes a few areas of interest I found, which are compiled from two far more comprehensive timelines. The first timeline breaks up the information in a very user-friendly way, and is focused on refugee statistics. CNN’s timeline is more up to date and provides a more thorough overall picture of what has been happening in Syria contributing to the large refugee population.

What’s some more specific information about refugees?

First, it’s important to note that not everyone we might think of as a refugee is considered that by the UN or the country they are in. As any policy has to draw the line somewhere, here are the differences between a refugee and other designations, even if they are fleeing the same situation.

What that means is that data compiled by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) about refugees includes those with that technical classification, not asylum seekers and displaced persons.

UNHCR population statistics

How has the world responded?

There hasn’t been one response to Syria’s refugees; country by country can vary incredibly. Even within the EU, where some expected united action, responses have been quite different. Germany has taken in over a million refugees since 2015, Denmark received less than 3,000 from 2010-2014, Hungary built a border fence, etc.

I was curious to see of the countries that were being praised for their acceptance rates and those admitting few, how did their refugee population compare percentage-wise to their country’s population? I looked at only a handful of countries based on what I had heard about their refugee population and whether they were close to Syria. The results shocked me.

 

Country 2016 Population 2016 Refugee Population Accepted (source: AIED) % of Refugees in Total Population
USA 324.1 million 84,995 (World Atlas) (number of applications unknown .026%
Germany 82.8 million (Federal Statistical Office) 433,920 (58.2% acceptance rate) .52%
France 64.67 million 29,140 (34.18% acceptance rate) .045%
UK 65.1 million 7,325 (23.94% acceptance rate) .011%
Canada 36.3 million 46,700 (66.1% acceptance rate) .1287%
Greece 10.89 million 2,711 (5.3% acceptance rate) .025%

 

I found the percentage of refugees in the nation’s population to be particularly insightful, but I believe they speak for themselves. Greece’s acceptance rate may seem unacceptable, but can be attributed to the fact that Greece is the country receiving most of the people crossing the Mediterranean. They may not be providing a place to stay for refugees, but they operate many refugee camps and other places Syrians can wait until another country (typically in the EU) accepts their asylum application.

Is there anything I can do?

I was surprised to learn during and after this trip that the answer was yes. If your country is not taking in many refugees, it can feel like there’s nothing really meaningful you can do. Though it’s unfortunate and honestly frustrating that we aren’t helping out as a country by taking in more refugees, there is a lot we can do as individuals.

Displaced people flee toward the Syrian border

One of my biggest concerns, returning from this trip, is the lack of awareness we have toward what’s happening in Syria and with those refugees who are trying to resettle in countries around the world. An active way to feel ourselves make a difference, is to have the difficult conversations with people who might not agree with us, or might just not seem to care. I’ll be up front with you, it sucks doing that. It feels pointless; there’s no way anything you say can change their mind. However, I’m starting to think it’s not all about changing their mind, but opening their mind to change. If you’ve read some of my other posts, you noticed that I’m worried about the subtle side of Islamophobia in America. The Islamophobia that is our automatic anxiety regarding someone who seems like they might be Muslim. If we approach these anxieties one conversation at a time, maybe they can be chipped away. Maybe then, if we have an administration ready to accept more refugees, the population will be ready to. Or if the administration isn’t ready, maybe the population’s readiness will help push them forward, similar to what we saw with the legalization of same-sex marriage. Yes, having these conversations is difficult, but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. We’d never further ourselves as a society if that’s the attitude we had. And hey, one way to make the conversation a little easier is to have a middleman (my shameless plug for you to share this blog).

International Rescue Committee

Of course there are other ways to make change outside of dialogue, one of which is through the organizations trying to help in Syria and the surrounding countries. An organization I like is the International Rescue Committee. They have really unique ways that your involvement can make a difference. You can be very specific, such as helping to create a classroom for displaced children who have no access to education, a kit for newborns, an emergency toilet where otherwise there would be none available, and so much more. This UNHCR page has a comprehensive list of everyone who partners with them in different areas of need. Click on the area you might be interested in helping with and see every organization that works with the UNHCR in that aspect. Even though many of these seek monetary donations, your money isn’t going to some abstract cause hoping to stop the refugee crisis. It’s going to things that can help right now, some of which (depending on the organization) you can donate in place of money. Something to consider, if you’re interested.

Children at Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan

Refugees Welcome

I had the chance to visit a refugee camp while I was in Germany. It was a large compound with a series of apartment buildings where people of all ages and backgrounds lived. A woman who worked at the camp shared that many people spend their time there waiting to leave; they don’t want to stay in the camp when there’s a whole city out there beyond it. After hearing this, I found myself wondering if there was a better option.

“Why shouldn’t refugees be able to live in flatshares or houses instead of camps?”

Refugees Welcome is a non-profit organization that began in Berlin in 2014, and has since expanded to 14 countries worldwide. The goal of this program is to connect refugees with locals who are willing to share their homes and provide them with a place to live.

This living arrangement is far more beneficial to refugees than living in a camp. Instead of isolating them, it integrates them into the community, which provides a stronger sense of belonging and overall happiness. It also allows them to learn the language faster, adjust to their new environment more easily, and make connections with their fellow citizens, something that can be otherwise difficult to do.

A person interested in hosting a refugee simply has to register their home on the website and provide information about their living situation. After the application is reviewed and a few vetting procedures take place, they will be matched with a person looking for a place to live.

This arrangement is always free for refugees, and can be free for the host as well through Refugees Welcome, crowd sourcing, and donations.

You can donate here.

 

 

Redefining a Refugee Crisis Through the Means of Social Media: Part II

 

While in Syria, people are viewing and analyzing information from a threatening or anxious perspective, they are using social media to share awareness, stories, and information about the crisis. Murray E. Jannex would explain in his book, Implementing Social Media in Crisis Response Using Knowledge Management, how social media and wiki’s in particular, are a reliable resource to turn to in times of crisis, “Wikis are excellent or collaborative authoring and storage, organization, and dissemination of document, process, and solutions.” (222) They use it as a tool to help protect one another and share information about attacks. Some of this information includes where recent attacks were, who they were from, even who died in the attacks. In a prior interview on this blog, written by Jackie Barba, Ahmad Dallal, expressed that a friend’s death was confirmed via Facebook, “I lost a friend. He died from a rocket that came from the sky, and I don’t know where it came from, because nobody ever knows. He was just walking down the street and he died. I heard ‘Mohammad is dead,’ and then I saw the photos on Facebook.” (digital-refuge.com) To help share what exactly it is like to live in a city filled with terrorism and shed light to the root of the displacement, people will post graphic photos and videos to Facebook and YouTube, even though they could encounter a death penalty from the regime. Ahmad would explain later in the interview that the photos and videos, that they could be so graphic that it may portray a mangled body that is completely unrecognizable. Ahmad would explain in the same interview, that it is through this videos, while graphic and disturbing, it tells the truth of what is happening in Syria. It shares a picture that is generally blocked out in the main stream media. Especially in places such as the United States. By filtering what is real, it continues to mold that stigma of the refugee crisis. However, these videos and images that are shared bring the clear and true perspective of what has been occurring.

With education and opportunity, they are cell phone users much like Americans are. An article published through Independent supplied the fiscal breakdown of an average citizen living in Syria,

“Syria is not a rich country, but it is not a poor country either: it ranks as a “lower middle income” according to the World Bank. In 2007 (the last year stats for both were available) Syria had a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of $1850 which is more than Egypt at the time, which was only at $1620. Mobile phone penetration is similarly high in Syria as Egypt too. According to the CIA World Factbook in 2014 Syria had 87 mobile phones per 100 of the population, compared to Egypt’s 110 per 100 (the UK has 123 per 100 people) (O’Malley).

It would not be until 2011, that having a cellular device would no longer just be a means of daily communication, but one of survival and proof of safety. It has proven to be one of the most vital tools for refugees on their journey to find sanctuary. Smartphones for a refugee, are a multi-faceted tool and are highly important to make it safely to their destination. By using GPS while cross the Mediterranean Sea, using a free messaging App to talk to their family, or even sending a selfie the prove their safely and location. This form of technology has paved the way for a modern-day refugee and their safety to finding asylum. In an article by Luke Graham of CNBC News, it discussed an interview with Paul Donohue of the International Rescue Committee and the various ways a refugee has used a smartphone during their journey, “Donohoe also met a Syrian refugee whose boat sank as he crossed the straights from Turkey to Lesbos. He used WhatsApp to alert the Greek coastguards, and used his phone’s GPS to make sure he swam in the right direction towards the island.” The same article would discuss a photo project that was done called What’s in my bag which noted the possessions of the refugees. In their bags, it was most common to find a smartphone, a charging cable, and even a back-up cell phone to have during emergencies or if their other phone broke. In addition to GPS and messaging, they also largely use their phones for translating foreign languages and using currency exchanging apps. While as a college student living in the United States or in Western Europe, a smartphone is a means of texting or Snapchatting friends, or posting an image to Instagram, for a refugee, it is a tool of safety. It has helped them along the way and has grossly impacted their rate of survival.

Refugees have been fleeing from one side of the world to another throughout the history of mankind. However, in recent years, the process of that journey has been revolutionized and redefined by advancements in technology and the development of social media. The capabilities of social media in the hands of a refugee has allowed them to find themselves on the opposite ends of the world. It has allowed them to reconnect and stay connected to their families during displacement. It grants them the means to finding their way from Syria to Europe safely and efficiently. When they are experiencing terror or are in need of help and assistance, they are able to reach out to those resources. But most importantly it has authorized them these people to share the truth, to tell their story, keep one another safe, and to break the stigma of what it means to be a refugee.

Medium Article Supplies Food for Thought

The other day while paroozing through Medium, I came across an article that left me thinking. It goes through the rather long day of a woman going to the mall with her children, choosing to be a good person, despite the inconvenience. Then hearing the story of two woman from Syria and what they experienced in their home country. They expressed to the woman the importance of acceptance and allowing the opportunity to start over.
The article continues and highlights where our country stands towards the refugee crisis, and their lack of efforts. That our president, within his first seven days of presidency, made harsh bans against muslims and those who seek refuge.
There was a particular point, that while obvious and talked about regularly, is also so frequently forgotten. Many of those who voted for our current president, who disagree with allowing Muslims into the country despite their conflict and search for opportunity, are no different than many of their family members that came over many generations ago. That they also came here in search of opportunity. Here to start again. Here to support their families. Here to begin again and find refuge.

Check Before You Share

Since being back in America and telling all of my friends and family about my trip, I have received a lot of questions. The one I’ve been asked the most often is: was it scary?

At first, this irritated me. I would go to great lengths to defend my friends and explain how kind and welcoming every single person I met during my travels was. The question askers would politely listen to me ramble, and then change the subject, unconvinced.

The preconceived notions people hold about Syrian refugees (or about Muslims as a whole) are due to the way they are perceived in the media. The good, positive things that happen everyday never receive any news coverage; you only hear about the much less common negative things. A Syrian man I met in Darmstadt said himself that any time he heard about a crime that happened in the city, he would pray that it wasn’t committed by a refugee because he knew it would reflect badly on the whole community.

There isn’t much that can be done to stop negative stories about refugees from being written, but there is a lot that can be done to stop them from spreading. It is always worth it to take the few extra minutes necessary to fact check a story before sharing it, because the negative stereotypes that are often perpetuated by these sometimes untrue or sensationalized stories affect the lives of real people.

Redefining a Refugee Crisis Through the Means of Social Media: Part I

The displacement of people and the need to find refuge has been an issue that has existed for thousands of years. A person could open any religious or historical text and find numerous examples within them telling the same story from various perspectives. The idea of violence, terrorism, war, and conflict displacing people from one end of the world to another is not a new concept. But in March 2011, a civil war broke out in Syria which has since then displaced over 13.5 million people (syrianrefugees.eu). While displacement and the search for refuge are common themes through all crises of the past, there is an element that has revolutionized and redefined how people respond to such a crisis. It has brought a new form of communication, a new means to finding one’s way, a new form of survival and story-telling, and that is social media.

Within the last decade, the birth of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so forth, have altered our daily lives and how we interact with others. People are able to connect over these platforms and can create an impact by posting a picture, “sharing” or “liking” a post, or even creating a message in 140 characters or less. These actions, while some would consider passive or harmless, have turned into news sources, platforms of journalism, new forms of marketing, and ways for people to learn new information. Ashlee Humphreys, in her book Social Media: Enduring Principles, discusses the the nature of Twitter and how it has revolutionized the idea of news delivery via social media, compares to traditional news delivery, and how people consume the information, “Scholars have found that the addition of Twitter as a tool for news delivery to the media ecology has taken over some tasks formerly allocated to traditional news organizations, but it has also made other functions of mainstream media such as their gatekeeping and fact checking more reliable.” (249) While the information can be hard to be noted as credibly at times, it is a streamline into the minds and voices of average people and how they experience their day-to-day life. But with that being said, they have also become outlets for powerful individuals, such as the President or the Pope, to relay messages and express themselves to “followers.” However, with these platforms and information that is shared, a message or image maybe posted and could become spreadable which would create an image of what an issue or movement would look like without giving it the full story, only a slice of it. That image could then create a stigma or a particular perception on a human or political situation such as that of the Syrian refugee crisis. Over the past several years, by sharing particular pieces of information, the media has molded a view of this crisis and has shaped a particular attitude towards these people.

After fleeing from Syria, the encounter of stigma is what has separated and divided refugees the most from integrating into a new country. There is a page on Facebook that has altered the perception and has allowed people to look at those that lived in Syria before the war. Brandon Stanton launched a page on Facebook back in 2010 that has over time accumulated roughly 18 million followers, Humans of New York. The site has shared the stories and images of a vast variety of citizens that inhabit the city of New York. As the years have passed, this arts and humanities page ventured outside of New York and shared the stories of others from around the world. In 2015, this project would take him to Syria and interview a handful of individuals that were impacted by the civil war and then share their stories on Facebook. He shared the story of an anonymous man and the life that he use to have before the civil war: his dedication to his education and his hope to change the world. He shares a narrative that rivals the stigma that has been created:

“I was determined to become a scientist through my own personal will. I graduated high school with the third highest scores in all of Syria. I worked construction in the evenings to pay for my school. Even as a teenager, I was being given construction sites to manage. I graduated from university at the top of my class. I was given a scholarship to pursue my PhD. I suffered for my dream. I gave everything. If I had 100 liras, I would spend it on a book. My ultimate goal was to become a great scientist and make a lasting contribution to humanity.” (Stanton)

This post and story include an image of the man, his children, his house, and the environment that he has lived in. There exists battered walls and a clearly shaky foundation. This observation was not a result of the country or culture he is rooted in, but the terror and destruction that has evolved over the last several years.  These posts have been shared, liked, and commented on. They have brought awareness and truth to the situation and how people respond to them. The interaction from the people who read this post, were educated on what it is like for a refugee to encounter stigma. More specifically, how that can be so threatening when they are trying to become a member of society as well as projecting their professions and education.

While Brandon Stanton’s, Humans of New York project has brought truth and awareness, there are other ways that social media has impacted how people view these individuals. An article that was published through CNN portrayed the image of an unknown father trying to sell pens to support his daughters after losing much of what they had due to the crisis. This received massive attention and was spread across the internet. People responded with much sympathy towards the situation. Eventually, by spreading this image and asking the general public, “Who is this man?” they got a response and were able to identify the man. “The social media campaign immediately made good on its promise to help Abdul, who fled from his home in Yarmouk, one of the most beleaguered places in Syria” (Abdelaziz). Afterwards, people then created hashtags such as #buypens to create awareness of what this man and people in similar situations are desperate to do to support their families after displacement. Eventually, somebody set up a crowdfunding page to raise money to assist the man and his family. This crowdfunding site would end up raising over $80,000. With much gratitude, he expressed and let it be known that with the money, he was able to provide for and send his children to school. He even shared the money with other refugees in similar situations. The power and impact of an image and a hashtag has proven to be life altering. In another instance, TIME published an article that discussed the power of photography, particularly that of the image of 2-year-old Aylan Kurdi, whose body was found washed ashore in the process of fleeing across the Mediterranean Sea. It created a great emotional response and was able to connect people with severity of the situation and how refugees are people just them. Peter Bouckaert discussed in the article his personal response to the image, “’It’s, sadly, a very well-composed image showing a little toddler that we can all identify with, with his little sneakers and shorts on,’ he tells TIME. ‘I think for a lot of the public, their first reaction is: ‘This could have been my child.” (Laurent) In another article posted to opencanada.org, this image is discussed and analyzed once more. It went into detail how that particular Google search of the image compares the Paris attacks of the same year. This image of the boy brought in a greater Google search as a result of its raw nature and emotionally triggering content. It discussed how social media has created a general persona of a refugee as a victim rather than a person, like you or I, forced to flee their home and the life they have created. Relating back to stigma, they are seen as poor or unfortunate, when they are merely displaced due to terrorism. The article also went further into detail how Twitter has been able to help analyze and figure out, what group of individuals is the main force behind the displacement of Syria citizens. The analysis studied 1,000 of the most retweeted tweets. They were then analyzed of their qualitative data. That data then concluded that those who were the most responsible were that of the Assad regime and Arab government. Twitter was also used by ISIS to convince refugees to not flee to the west. They used the hashtag #Refugees_To_Where. This campaign had two potential goals, to either scare the citizens from the West by sharing images of Syrians being beaten by European police, or to convince them that they were religious traitors for leaving their homeland.

Syria and the U.S.

Before this trip, I thought I knew how the United States had been responding to the Syrian Civil War. We had admitted almost no refugees, and we were involved in some way militarily but I wasn’t aware quite how. After talking with some Syrians and conducting a bit of research, here’s what I learned.

The number of refugees admitted into the U.S. in 2016 was double what I expected at 84,995. This number accounts for refugees all around the world granted asylum in the U.S. In fact this is more refugees than the U.S. has accepted since the 1990s. But at a time when there is far greater need than we’ve seen since World War II, can we be doing more?

A country’s economy is often a factor influencing the number of refugees granted asylum. Part of that involves the percentage of population that country can support. In 2016, the U.S. population was 324,118,787. That means .026% of the U.S. population in 2016 was refugees from varying locations around the world.

Economically, we can resettle far more refugees. It seems that often times, economic reasons stop us as a nation from doing otherwise compassionate or common sense acts for foreigners or our own citizens. So what’s getting in the way here? You might be able to guess what I’m going to say here: fear. It’s become so ingrained in our heads that we almost have to work to not automatically think of someone from the Middle East as a terrorist. This is heartbreaking, especially when the facts so strongly oppose the amount of fear we have. Here’s some statistics related to our anxiety toward refugees (especially from Muslim-majority countries) that I find very interesting.

  • If you are an American, there is a 1 in 3.6 billion chance that you will be killed by a refugee. To put that into perspective, Americans are more likely to die from stairs (1 in 2,739), cows (1 in 16.2 million), your TV falling on you (1 in 1.8 million), lightning strike (1 in 174,426), and more. If you want to be afraid of something, choose one of those; they’re rare but still much more likely than being killed by a refugee.
  • From 2011-2015 about 12% of terrorist acts were committed by Muslims. Over 50% of terrorist attacks were committed by white supremacists, often self-proclaimed white supremacists.
  • We do get disproportionate coverage of Muslim-American crimes, but not in the way we might expect. When looking at coverage in American media about American crimes, “a perpetrator who is not Muslim would have to kill on average about 7 more people to receive the same amount of coverage as a perpetrator who is Muslim” (Erin Kearns, criminologist at Georgia State University, quoted on NPR’s podcast Hidden Brain).
  • Muslim-Americans account for 1% of the U.S. population.
  • There have been 3 terrorists who have entered the U.S. through the Visa Waiver program since the program was started in 1986. That amounts to 1 terrorist for every 129 million entrants with the program.

Though it feels difficult for everyday people to make a change in federal government policy, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. Policy never changes overnight; first the will of the people has to change. For that to happen, we each need to make a conscious effort to put that almost automatic fear and uncertainty aside and remember the positive stories we’ve heard about Muslims and refugees. We can spread those stories to make other people aware that we should be less afraid of refugees than we should be of our TVs falling on us. It may not feel like much, but step by step, we can affect change in the world around us.

Refugees in America

I was curious about what the refugee population in the United States is like, so I did some research and created a fact sheet specifically focusing on the 84,994 that were accepted into the country in 2016.

The most interesting fact I learned is that 46% (38,901) of refugees that came to the U.S. in 2016 were Muslim, the highest number to be admitted since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became available to the public in 2002.

How Much Do You Know About the Syrian Refugees?

Since the Syrian Revolution emerged in March of 2011 and the war began not long after, the dangers of war, fear of persecution, and destroyed infrastructure has forced millions out of their homes and their country. Because the number of those fleeing has climbed dramatically over the past six years, I put together an infographic to illustrate the current state of the refugee resettlement, according to recent UNHCR data and reports. While this has been deemed the largest refugee and displacement crisis of our time, it’s important to keep informed and know the facts to fully understand the magnitude of the impact. Continue reading “How Much Do You Know About the Syrian Refugees?”

Political Comics to Provoke Thought

Political Comics never fail to surface during the midst of civic dispute or controversy. They are quick to offer a blunt and often harsh perspective. While doing research on the subject matter of the refugee crisis, I came across a plethora of comics.  After going down a bit of a rabbit hole, I chose some of my favorites.  Some witty and clever, some too real and saddening. However, their rhetoric and agenda is straight forward and all turn towards the same direction, and propose various questions.

Why do people feel so threatened by refugees?

What can we do in the mean time to assist people that need refuge and help keep them safe?

Why are there not more people and countries playing their part?

Why is there a stigma among the refugees? Why are they thought of as less fortunate rather than humans like you or I?

Why have we let this happen and go this far?

Salam Alaikum; Aismi Hu Waseem

Salam alaikum: a common Arabic greeting meaning peace come to you. Instead of commonly greeting each other with something like hi or hello, salam alaikum starts a conversation by wishing the other peace.

Aismi hu Waseem: my name is Waseem. This post offers a glimpse into Waseem’s life as a young Syrian man. Of course this isn’t even close to a complete account of Waseem’s life, but many stories make up a life. Like all true stories, Waseem’s is a mix of happiness, struggle, and everything in between.

Continue reading “Salam Alaikum; Aismi Hu Waseem”

Syrians Make America Great

As of October 2016, 54 percent of registered voters have said that the United States does not have the responsibility to accept refugees from Syria.

The majority’s opinion matches up well with reality; the U.S. has taken in 18,007 refugees from Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011. Just for comparison, Germany, a country about the size of Montana, took in 890,000 refugees in 2015 alone. Continue reading “Syrians Make America Great”