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Syrian refugee crisis is heart-wrenching

Hungarian soldiers fix the poles of a new fence on the border with Croatia near Beremend, Hungary, September 21, 2015. Bernadett Szabo / Reuters

Hungarian soldiers fix the poles of a new fence on the border with Croatia near Beremend, Hungary, September 21, 2015. Bernadett Szabo / Reuters

By Hesham Hassaballa

Almost every day, it seems, news continues to pour out of Europe detailing the crisis regarding the thousands of migrants and refugees – most from Muslim countries – who are trying to escape to Europe. Their stories are heart-wrenching; the pictures and images are horrific. Over and over again, they keep saying that they are “escaping death and will not go back to it.”

Yet, as I watch with horror as these people risk their lives to get to Europe and then only find a Europe that clearly does not want them, I keep asking myself, “Why is this happening? How can the Muslim World have let it come to this?”

As the migrant crisis continues to worsen, there have been greater calls for the West to increase its response to address the crisis. Indeed, such calls are proper and warranted. Yet, this question keeps nagging at my soul: “Why is everyone waiting for the West to respond? Isn’t this a duty for the Muslim World to take up?”

I put this very question to Dr. Zaher Sahloul, past President of the Syrian American Medical Society and prominent American Muslim activist who has helped victims of the Syrian conflict.

“Yes, the Muslim “world” or Muslim majority countries, should accept more Syrian refugees and that include, not only the Gulf States, but Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and North African countries,” said Sahloul. “OIC (Organization of the Islamic Conference) should have a quote similar to what [the] EU has done.”

However, he also added, “But, whether we like it or not, the Western countries and the U.S. are more equipped to receive large influx of refugees. They treat refugees as equal members of the society, compared to Muslim countries that treat them as second or third class citizens with no rights or protection.”

He makes a valid point. He also said, “The American Jewish community advocated and absorbed 350,000 Soviet Jews between 1989-2006. Why can’t we do the same?” Again, a valid point. But the fact that it is a valid point is part of the tragedy of the situation.

The Qur’an says, “All believers are but brothers (and sisters to one another). Hence, [when­ever they are at odds,] make peace between your two brethren, and remain conscious of God, so that you might be graced with His mercy.” (49:10)

Have we done this in the case of Syria? Have we acted like brothers and sisters to one another? Or, have different Muslim factions (and nations) sided against one another and sought to massacre the other, creating the refugee crisis in the process?

How could there be Muslims who knowingly kill innocent non-Muslims, which they know is completely against the word of God? Worse, how can there be Muslims who knowingly kill other innocent Muslims, which they also know is completely against the word of God?

Now, I am not talking about the savages of ISIS. They must be fought relentlessly, and the entire world – most especially the Muslim world – must not stop until they are eliminated. But, the suffering that the Syrian conflict has caused – and continues to cause – is being goaded on by many in the Muslim world, and it baffles the mind that this can be so.

And on top of this madness, tens of thousands of innocent Muslims – fleeing death and devastation – risk their lives to go to an unwelcome Europe while the Muslim world watches in deafening silence. How can this be? What has become of the Ummah of Muhammad?

Do the words of the Qur’an mean anything to us? Do we truly believe they are the words of God, Whom we claim to worship besides none other? Or, are they simply a nicety to be read out during Friday sermons, but then forgotten when it does not suit geopolitical or economic interest? Is it too much to ask that the Muslim world start to act Muslim? It really should not be.

Editor’s Note: Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago doctor and writer. He has written extensively on a freelance basis, being published in newspapers across the country and around the world. His articles have been distributed worldwide by Agence Global, and Dr. Hassaballa has appeared as a guest on WTTW (Channel 11) in Chicago, CNN, Fox News, BBC, and National Public Radio. The views expressed here are his own.

The author speaking with Yazidi women refugees from Sinjar, Iraq, in a refugee camp near Diyarbakir, Turkey in July, 2015.

“What kind of Islam is that?”: talking with refugees from ISIS

The author speaking with Yazidi women refugees from Sinjar, Iraq, in a refugee camp near Diyarbakir, Turkey in July, 2015.

The author speaking with Yazidi women refugees from Sinjar, Iraq, in a refugee camp near Diyarbakir, Turkey in July, 2015.

By Mark Juergensmeyer

The following is reprinted with permission from Religion Dispatches. Follow RD on Facebook or Twitter for daily updates.

“They believe in some strange religion, not Islam,” a Muslim refugee from the Iraq city of Ramadi told me when I talked with him recently in a camp near the Kurdistan capital of Erbil in Northern Iraq. ISIS territory was some 40 miles away, but he spoke as if they could return at any moment.

“They reject our religion and say we are not sufficiently Muslim, but they kill the men and rape the women. What kind of Islam is that?”

Though his religious affiliation was Sunni Muslim and his ethnic identity was Arab—the kind of people that ISIS regards as its preferred community—he had been a policeman in Ramadi and knew that he would be targeted. His neighbors were frightened as well, having heard stories about the harsh rule of the ISIS commanders and the loss of freedom under their control. As soon as he heard fighting at the edge of town he and other families quickly climbed into their cars at two o’clock in the morning and escaped. Most of the rest of the city joined them, he said. Now they are waiting in the camp, hoping for ISIS to leave the town so they can return.

It was a story repeated by dozens of refugees that I met this summer in refugee camps and makeshift shelters in Kurdistan and southeastern Turkey. They seemed puzzled about who ISIS was and what they wanted.

Most used the term “Daesh” for ISIS, based on an acronym for the Arabic name for the movement, al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (“the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [wider Syria]”–ISIL or ISIS). By coincidence, the term daesh also means something like the Arabic word for “bullies,” and for that reason ISIS leaders are annoyed by its usage. Probably also for that reason the term persists among those victimized by it.

“The Daesh leaders are foreigners,” a Kurdish man from a village near Mosul told me, saying he didn’t know where they came from, since he didn’t recognize their form of Arabic. The local members of the movement, he said, were poor people forced into it, though some seemed to be true believers.

An automobile dealer from a village north of Mosul recognized one of the ISIS fighters who captured him as a man in the village to whom he had sold a car. The car dealer was from the Kurdish ethnic community; the man who bought his car was an Arab.

When the town was surrounded by ISIS, the militants forcibly divided the population into its Kurdish and Arab groups. One of the Arabs suggested that representatives from both groups wave a white flag and go to the ISIS leaders to negotiate their way out of the situation. That’s when the car dealer recognized his former customer among the ISIS fighters. The customer-turned-ISIS-fighter looked down and tried to avert the gaze from his former neighbor.

The negotiations soon broke down and the Arabs were told that they would not be harmed as long as they did nothing to impede ISIS’ authority and if some of the men would volunteer to fight on their side. The Kurds were not given any assurances, and fearing the worst most of them slipped away that night in the darkness to safety. They heard that those who stayed were divided into men and women’s groups. The men were killed and the women were taken into slavery.

Is It About Religion? Or About Power?

I talked with another fellow, a Syrian Christian pharmacist who had in fact stayed in his Syrian village after it had been taken over by ISIS forces. When he became a refugee he was able to stay in a slightly more comfortable Christian camp than the one for Arab Muslims; it was set up in what had formerly been a playground next to a Catholic church in the Erbil suburb of Ankawa. The camp consisted of one-room campers instead of tents, supplied by the Christian charity, the Good Samaritans.

The pharmacist told us that the Syrian Army had assured them that they would be safe as ISIS approached. But then the army suddenly disappeared, and ISIS had taken the town. At first, the ISIS militants told them they would not be harmed as long as they gave them all their money and their cell phones. In other villages, they heard, an agreement to convert to Islam and a payment of $7 per month would allow them to survive. But initially they were not given those options.

Moreover, his wife was taunted for wearing a Western-style dress, as many Christian women do, so she could not venture outside. They also kept their daughters hidden, fearing they would be captured by ISIS and sold into sex slavery.

They waited until the middle of the night and then they and their neighbors made a break for freedom. They piled into the back of trucks and with the lights out drove madly through checkpoints and down the road towards Iraq and Kurdistan. The pharmacist showed me a video he had made with his cell phone, which did indeed look like a cattle surge of vehicles illumined by a few eerie lights. Now the news from his town is “very bad”—there is no water or electricity or food in stores.

Christians are forced to make payments to be allowed to survive and have to pretend to be Muslims and go to the mosque, and ISIS militants roam around the streets and do whatever they want.

When I asked several of the refugees whether ISIS was motivated by religion or by power, they said “power,” but that they used religion as an excuse for their authority. One Kurdish man from the Syrian town of Dierzor said that he had evidence that the ISIS fighters weren’t really religious.

The Kurd told a story that he had heard about a Christian Syrian who was arrested by an ISIS soldier at check point. The ISIS soldier asked the Christian to state his religion. “Muslim,” the Christian said, trying to save himself. The ISIS fighter then asked the Christian to prove it by reciting the Qur’an. The Christian mumbled some verses from the Bible, the only scripture he knew. “Good enough,” said the ISIS militant, unaware that the verses were not Qur’anic, and let him through unharmed.

When I asked the Kurd what kind of people supported ISIS in his home town of Dierzor, he said only a few did; they were mostly poor people who received money if they joined the movement as fighters. ISIS, he said, pays their soldiers 1000 dollars a month, whereas the Syrian opposition groups pay only $500. And ISIS does pay in US dollars, interestingly, perhaps from money it receives from illicit oil sales.

The Kurd said that all of his Kurdish neighbors in Dierzor were gone. They were told by ISIS they could stay but then killing began. Now all Kurds have either escaped and are refugees, or have been killed.

My hosts in Erbil had found this fellow, the Syrian Kurd, encamped in a vacant lot, where they took me to meet him. Though most of the two million refugees in Kurdistan—a fourth of the population of the region—were in orderly refugee camps living in tent cities or in clusters of pre-fab modular rooms, some, like him, had taken refuge in empty lots or unfinished buildings in the city of Erbil. Since the rise of ISIS has brought Erbil’s economic boom to a halt and stalled its construction frenzy, there are plenty of abandoned buildings to serve as shelters.

In the case of the Syrian Kurd with whom I spoke, he and his family along with three other families had created a tent city on an unused site at a street crossing. They poured concrete slabs and illegally tapped into an adjacent power line for electricity. They dug into the ground and connected to the city’s water supply to have drinking water and dug a pit for a latrine. With television and a refrigerator, they managed to create a viable living space.

The residents of Erbil were remarkably tolerant—sympathetic, really—to the situation of such impromptu refugee camps, and the refugees in vacant lots received hand-outs and help from the neighbors. The government of Kurdistan, however, is trying to encourage all refugees to live in camps, and are rapidly building more to house them. But new refugees continue to pour in.

Many of the approved camps consisted of rows of modular houses, or tent roofs over one-room buildings with cinder block walls. Many had water, electricity and toilets in each unit, with solar-powered satellite dishes for TV. In other cases, each family had only a tent and shared rows of common toilets with hundreds of other families. The canvas roofs bore the insignia of the United Nations, though private relief organizations, including many from Kurdistan itself, were donors as well. Though most refugees came when ISIS overran the region two years ago, some were war-weary Syrians who had been nomads for years. A few were new arrivals.

One of the newest refugees I talked with was the young Sunni Arab man and his family who had just arrived from the town of Ramadi, west of Baghdad, that fell to ISIS forces in May, 2015. He said that he and 90% of the population left on one side of the town as ISIS entered the other. There had been heavy fighting, he said, and his own nine-month daughter had been killed in the fighting. And then the Iraqi Army just gave up and left. The townspeople panicked. They drove their cars into the desert, and then to Baghdad, but were turned away in Baghdad because they were Sunni and Baghdad was controlled by Shi’a militia. For that reason they came back to the desert, and a few, such his family and himself, were able to fly to Erbil to stay in safer refugee camps.

The Ramadi man had heard reports that ISIS had set up a check point at the entrance to the town next to an open pit that served as a mass grave. When people tried to enter the city, the ISIS guards checked their computers to see if they could pass through, and if not they shot them on the spot and tossed their bodies into the open grave.

Neither Muslim nor Arab: the Plight of Yazidi Refugees

In Southeastern Turkey there are additional refugee camps for Kurds, including those Kurds who worship the ancient Yazidi religion. I went to the Kurdish city of Diyarbakir to visit a Yazidi camp where some 3500 were living in tents in what had been a municipal park. I had to get special permission as a writer from government authorities to enter any refugee camp in Kurdistan or Turkey—though in this case I also had to gain the approval of local leaders who ran the camp. One of them joined in the conversations and urged the Yazidi refugees to tell me what had happened to them. Their stories were particularly harrowing.

A middle-aged Yazidi woman from the town of Sinjar told me her story about how they waited too long to make their escape. She said that initially the Kurdish troops, the Peshmurga, assured them that they would be safe, and not to worry. When they heard that a nearby city, Tel Afar, had fallen to ISIS, they still stayed. The Peshmurga troops, however, were overrun and ISIS took control.

She knew that the Yazidi people would be targeted by ISIS since they were not Muslim. She had heard that they were killing Christians for not being Muslim, and Sunni Muslim Kurds for not being Arabs, so she knew that her people would be doubly damned since their religion was Yazidi and their ethnic community was Kurdish. The woman said that she and other Yazidis rushed through the main street and many of the men were killed, including her husband and his brothers, but she and her children kept going to safety. They fled to the Sinjar mountains along with thousands of other Yazidi refugees. After many days, she said, the Kurdish militant movement, the PKK, opened a corridor of safety for them to escape.

She has heard reports that teenage girls were taken to warehouses where they were auctioned off to “old men” who bought them as sex slaves. Some were bought for no more than a thousand Iraqi dinars, which amounts to less than a US dollar.

I asked her and several of the other refugees in her camp and in Erbil whether they thought that ISIS would stay in power long. Yes, they sadly affirmed, since “they were evil,” as one of them put it: they knew how to intimidate people through killing. At the same time they knew there was little future for them as refugees in Kurdistan or Turkey. They had no option but to hope that they could return to their villages and towns.

“All we have left is hope,” one of the men said.

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

More Syrian refugees: good for national security

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

A woman reacts as she takes part in a protest in solidarity with the refugees from Syria, in Malaga, September 9. Jon Nazca / Reuters

By David Mednicoff
The Conversation

Western countries and the Middle East are (finally) engaged in serious negotiations around resettling many more of the refugees from Syria – the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II.
While arguments around global complicity and moral obligation in the Middle East should and do inspire aid to refugees, they do not always persuade policymakers as much as pragmatic ones that refugees benefit the countries that welcome them.

With this in mind, it is worth highlighting arguments like that of economist Daniel Altman, who notes the clear economic benefits to countries for absorbing refugees.

Yet there is another strong argument to be made that offering temporary or permanent homes to specifically Syrian refugees is in the national interest of countries like the US. In particular, such refugees can be crucial resources in tackling the extremist violence and authoritarian excess that we are now witnessing in the Middle East.

They can do this in three specific ways.

First, they will no longer be part of the problem by escaping the immediate threat of violence or radicalization. Second, their experience can serve as an important example for others. Third, they have the skills and the background that can be put to work in the broader struggle to defeat parochialism and repression in the Middle East.

No longer part of the problem

For starters, Syrians who are repatriated out of harm’s way are unlikely future contributors to Middle Eastern religious or authoritarian violence.

The logic of this is clear; refugees are fleeing Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State or both. Having experienced the extreme disruption of Syria’s brutal civil war caused by the Assad regime’s brutal crackdown on domestic uprisings and the subsequent exploitation of this disruption by ISIS, they are unlikely to entertain illusions about the merits of violence.

Indeed, as has been the case for earlier populations of refugees, like Vietnamese-Americans, displaced Syrians should be able to appreciate the societies and people who help them during their time of need, whether or not they return to their country of origin. To assume that many Syrians are would-be jihadis after what they have experienced requires, to my mind, a leap of (paranoid) faith.

In any case, if Middle Eastern and Western governments alike fear the radicalization of Syrians, showing them compassion and generosity in their hour of need is a far more obvious strategy to address this fear than forcing them to choose between fighting or capture in Syria and possible death if they leave.

Serving as an example for others

Refugees from World War II were instrumental in calling Americans’ attention to the specific tragedies of that conflict.

For instance, Elie Wiesel’s memoir of Auschwitz, Night, which he published soon after becoming an American in 1958, remains a central testimony to the particular cruelty of the Nazi Holocaust and extreme inhumanity more generally.

The adoption of Syrian refugees by countries like the US will produce similar direct and gripping eyewitness of the massive atrocities that we know have been perpetrated by both the Assad regime and ISIS. Americans have been inspired by the story of the Pakistani student Malala Yousafzai. Syrian Malalas with stories of their own await our attention.

More specifically, if Syrian refugees are welcomed in sufficient numbers and go on to connect with a broad variety of Americans, two groups of people – both important in the struggle against violence and extremism in the Middle East – could learn from their example.

First, Syrian witnesses to the reality of ISIS could provide a reality check for alienated Muslim-Americans who romanticize, or are drawn by ISIS media handlers to the pseudo Islamic caliphate.
Second, and at least as important, the example of hardworking Syrian Muslims and Christians with harrowing stories holds the potential to provide concrete sources of empathy to those Americans inclined to stereotype Middle Easterners and Muslims. This empathy would be a counter to the sort of Western-based Islamophobia that has a role in fueling ongoing conflict between parts of the West and the Middle East.

Potential problem solvers

Most Syrian refugees who come to the US will pursue or build on the many interests and careers they developed in preconflict Syria, hopefully bolstered by the best of what America has to offer: generosity and freedom.

Some refugees, however, might use their experience and knowledge to be engaged directly in the struggle against Middle Eastern violence.

By this, I am not talking of the possibility that they could join the American military or national security agencies, although this is not out of the question.

What I want to highlight, rather, is that the refugee crisis in itself reminds us that the scale of the violence in the Middle East is massive and that further violence is unlikely to solve the problem.

Middle Eastern conflict in recent decades teaches two lessons: that repeated saber-rattling only produces more and sharper sabers, and that, as a result, the underlying dynamics of conflicts must be addressed.

Before its 2011 breakdown, Syria – with its religious and ethnic pluralism – was an unusual Middle Eastern society.

Many Syrian refugees know what it is like to live with people of other religions and other ethnicities. This experience, coupled with Syrians’ familiarity with the region and their ability to communicate in Arabic, would allow refugees so inclined to work collaboratively with officials and civilians on projects fostering tolerance and defusing conflict in the region.

In short, Syrian refugees hold key assets and life stories that can indirectly and directly contribute to the long, but necessary, struggle to defuse violent religious conflict and repression in the Middle East.

Moreover, they have the incentive to do so.

For this reason, as well as basic humanitarianism, the US should dramatically increase – and quickly – the number of refugees from Syria that it takes in.

Indeed, the same logic applies to other Western and Middle Eastern countries with a strong stake in avoiding the increasingly stark future of horrific political repression in Syria – whether in the name of Assad’s secularism or ISIS’s Islamism.

Riveting Syrian refugee tragedies like that of three-year-old Alan Kurdi should be a wake-up call. The current crisis can be turned an opportunity to make a dent in the region’s suffering once and for all.

Editor’s note: David Mednicoff is Assistant Professor of Public Policy; Director of Accelerated Degree Programs, Center for Public Policy and Administration; and Director, Middle Eastern Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst. His views are his own. This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

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Gulf people ashamed by refugees response

OnIslam & News Agencies

DUBAI — As thousands of refugees try their luck in the sea to flee to Europe, many people in the rich Gulf states feel shamed by the official silence of Gulf’s affluent monarchies on the ongoing crisis.

“It gives us a glimmer of hope after these recent drowning episodes to see broad campaigns of sympathy and solidarity with the issue of Syrian refugees by governments and peoples in some European countries,” wrote Zeid al-Zeid in a column for Kuwait’s Al-An newspaper on Sunday, Reuters reported.

“But it makes us sorry and makes us wonder about the absence of any official response by Arab states … we’re seeing a silence that’s scandalous.”

Some 350,000 migrants have made the perilous journey to reach Europe’s shores since January this year, according to figures released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on Tuesday.

The IOM said more than 2,600 migrants had drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean in the same period.

A photo of a three-year-old Syrian toddler lying face down on the beach, after he and his family drowned, has sparked worldwide outcry over this week.

Feeling unsure with the official reaction, many in the Gulf states feel uneasy, apparently clear in paintings and cartoons of the young boy’s death which crowded Arab social media.
One of those cartoons depict little Aylan Kurdi’s corpse laid out before an open grave with inert figures in traditional Gulf Arab cloaks and robes holding shovels.

Another showed the toddler’s head slumped toward a tombstone marked “the Arab conscience”.

“The Gulf states often complain that the Arabic language is underused and that our culture is under threat due to the large number of foreign immigrants,” Sultan Sooud al Qassemi, a commentator in the United Arab Emirates, said.

He suspected Gulf States were wary of allowing in large numbers of politically vocal Arabs who might somehow influence a traditionally passive society.

“Here is an opportunity to host a group of people who can help alleviate such concerns and are in need of refuge, fleeing a brutal war,” al Qassemi added.

Another Kuwaiti analyst shocked audience by saying in a TV interview that refugees were better suited to poorer countries.

“Gulf countries clearly can and should do an awful lot more,” said Oxfam’s Syria country director Daniel Gorevan.

He called on Gulf states to “offer up work places, family unification schemes, essentially other legal avenues for them to get into Gulf countries and to be able to earn a living.”

Sympathy

Away from rich Gulf monarchies, people in other parts of the Arab world have immense sympathy for Syrians, but mixed views on the feasibility of helping.

“Tunisia is not able to welcome any refugees. We cannot accept Syrian refugees. After the revolution of 2011, Tunisia was the first to pay the price in terms of refugees,” Boujemaa Rmili, a spokesman for the Nidaa Tounes party which forms part of the governing coalition.

“We have welcomed 1.2 million Libyans and that has cost us a lot.”

Migrants from Syria and Sahel countries into Algeria are estimated at 55,000, a source from Algeria’s Red Crescent told Reuters.

“We have done what we can to offer them the basics including food, medicine, host centers, and we have allowed the Syrian kids to study in our schools,” the source said.

For those defending Gulf policies, billions donated to Syrian refugee camps were enough.

“Qatar has provided over $2 billion in aid to the Syrian people in addition to the $106 million provided by Qatar’s semi-governmental institutions,” a Qatari diplomat said.
Yet, many were far from being satisfied, feeling Gulf states should do more.

“(The Gulf) should accept Syrian refugees. Saudis and Syrians have always been brothers and sisters. Aside from the fact that our religion requires us to do so, helping refugees should be a natural reaction to what we have seen in the media,” 22-year old Saudi student Noor Almulla said.

Another Saudi student, Sara Khalid, 23, said Gulf Arab states “as their neighbors and fellow Muslims” had a greater responsibility to Syrian refugees than Europeans.

The closed borders have traumatized many, who felt that Arab countries do not welcome them.

Iyad al-Baghdadi, a Palestinian blogger and activist deported from the UAE last year, has criticized the response of the Gulf states and laments the closed borders and repression.

Recalling time spent in a Norwegian refugee camp with Syrian refugee friends, he said on Twitter: “Something about this felt absolutely alien – three grown Arab Muslim men who were made homeless and are seeking refuge in… Scandinavia.”

“The Arab world is 5 million square miles. When my son was born, among the worst thoughts was how it has no space for him.”

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Salaam Cultural Museum assists Syrian refugees

By Jordan Schneider

There are 6.3 million displaced refugees in Syria, 1.3 million live in Jordan. Not all Syrian refugees within Jordan live in official refugee camps; nevertheless, living in Jordan and not in a camp means 20 to an apartment. These are urban refugees. Other refugees not in official camps have built their own camps near farming communities and work for one dollar a day harvesting fruit and vegetables.
Based out of Seattle, Washington, Salaam Cultural Museum is an all-volunteer organization that operates in Jordan as a registered NGO. With the exception of one paid office assistant no one draws a salary—not even those in the administration. For Ramadan, Rita Zawaideh, founder of Salaam, made a deal with one of the local Jordanian grocery stores; thirty one dollars purchased enough flour, sugar, tea, coffee, peanut butter, tuna fish and frozen chicken for a family of four for a month. Three thousand Syrian refugees were the recipient of the Ramadan food package.

During a recent conversation Zawaideh noted that “Syria, Lebanon and Jordan have never had hunger. It just has never happened. Grocers would always leave extra food outside if they were going to be closed. Now there is hunger and it is not ending.”

In addition to distributing food, Salaam organizes medical missions five to six times a year. These missions are staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and humanitarians who at their own expense spend a week providing medical care to refugees in various camps via a mobile medical clinic. The medical team will typically see 500-700 urban refugees a day. Salaam also runs the Malki Children’s Center in Amman where children can receive therapy to help them to cope with the atrocities that they have witnessed and the conditions in which they are forced to exist.

At the end of July, Salaam sent a cargo shipment bound for Jordan that included infant kits and over one hundred wheelchairs and crutches. For just thirty dollars, Salaam was able to put together kits that will cover a newborn’s first year of life. Items such as clothes, rattles, blankets, clothing, and diapers are part of the kit. Cargo by boat takes two months to arrive; when it does, Zawaideh’s relatives in Jordan retrieve the cargo and sort it.

Other supplies such as medicine, and hygiene kits, are either transported in by suitcases when Salaam volunteers travel to Jordan. Recently, Zawaideh brought in over 2000 pounds of medicine in her suitcase. Zawaideh , says “that on occasion the airlines will waive a fee on the ninth or tenth bag.”

Salaam is also partnering with luminAid, a maker of inflatable solar lanterns. The mission is to deliver inflatable solar lanterns to remote refugee communities within Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria

Ramadan should not end just because Ramadan has ended. First World dilemmas pale in comparison to the nightmare that is unending for those in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. They do not have the “luxury of despair,” they are too busy just trying to survive.

To learn more about Salaam Cultural Museum visit salaamculturalmuseum.wordpress.com. To learn more about LuminAid visit luminaid.com.

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ACCESS Event Supports Victims of Torture and War

ACCESS Press Release

Dancing, singing and then drumming rhythms from their homelands, supporters gathered at ACCESS in Sterling Heights last Friday to honor the United Nations’ International Day to Support Victims of Torture.

Many of the refugees who attended the event at ACCESS’ Psychosocial Rehabilitation Center for Torture Survivors and Refugees were torture survivors themselves. Music helps them heal, they said, adding that they hoped the event would spread awareness about the facility.

It is estimated there are nearly a half-million immigrants in the United States who have been victims of torture. Their healing process is crucial not only for each individual, but also for their families, employers, friends and neighbors.

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