December 9, 2016

‘Bring them here’

St. Louis rally in University City gathers over 400 in support of bringing Syrian refugees not just to the United States, but to the St. Louis area.

Protesters came together at University City in an effort to bring 65,000 Syrian refugees to the United States and especially St. Louis.

Faizan Syed, Executive Director of the St. Louis Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), stated in a press release he believes the U.S. can bring up to 65,000 refugees. Syed also praised the U.S. for its past history of accepting refugees.

“They take in roughly half of all the global refugee populations,” Syed said. “To bring in Syrian refugees is not only the right and moral thing to do, but it also reflects the proud immigration and refugee legacy of the U.S.”

Syed said in St. Louis alone, there are about 30,000 vacant homes and another 35,000 vacant properties in the counties. Syed said the resettlement of the refugees in St. Louis can help rejuvenate these areas.

About 400 protesters covering 10 blocks by the Delmar Loop Sept. 13 chanted “bring them here. Bring them here.  Bring them here.” The organizers and supporters were demanding Syrian refugees be brought to the St. Louis region.

“Knowing that St. Louis has helped refugees in the past, I hope the city will take in families that are desperately in need,” protester Chris Ahrens said.

This issue hits home for Eman Saffaf, a Syrian-American Webster student, who still has family in war-stricken Syria.  Although she said many of her family members have left since the war began in 2011, she has been trying to get them out as quickly and safely as possible.

“Every time the phone rings, we say ‘Bismillah’ (in the name of Allah),” Saffaf said. “We are always afraid of getting a phone call with bad news.”

Saffaf said she remembers Syria as being one of the safest countries in the world amidst ongoing battles in the Middle East. With Syria being one of the peaceful countries, it had opened its doors to many Iraqis and Palestinians during their own war.

“[Syria] was the country that helped others to live a decent life,” Saffaf said. “But when it’s our turn in need of help, most of the Arab countries have closed up their borders. Where is everyone?”

She said the money her family in the U.S. sends must go through a different country before reaching her family in Syria. She said soldiers have been throwing away food while civilians are left with nothing to eat.

The Syrian government has set up borders around towns and villages, preventing hundreds of people from receiving essential needs. Saffaf’s aunt smuggles bread between the borders on a regular basis and hides it under her religious attire.

“There are still people fighting and crying,” Saffaf said.  “There is just too much heartbreak.”

Saffaf said she believes there are two ways people can help the refugee crisis from afar: through education and fundraising.

“It’s four years after the war started, and people still have no idea on what’s going on there,” Saffaf said. “The internet only works miracles if we use it. Fundraising is also key in helping those in need. Those who are in Syria are being denied outside help, but so many of them are now on the move that charities are popping up and are able to help directly.”

The Syrian refugee crisis has made world news. Videos and stories of the refugees’ struggle have crossed the internet. As someone who is not a stranger to the Syrian war and its people, Saffaf is overwhelmed with the constant reminder of how horrible the current circumstances are. Pictures of dead children, including the three-year-old boy who drowned and laid facedown on the beach, have caused Saffaf so much emotional distress that she deactivated her Facebook account.

“America is based on immigration,” Saffaf said. “They started with nothing and built from the ground up. If we brought the Syrian refugees here, we would be giving people a chance to live and raise their children.”

More than 1,000 people supported the rally’s event page on Facebook, and there were about 30 volunteers that helped organize the rally.

“Our support proves that the people of St. Louis want Syrian refugees here,” Syed said. “Our large turnout proves that when people are given an opportunity to do good, to show their best side, they can and will. This has inspired me to know that the only action we need to create real and amazing change is to give people the opportunity to do so.”

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