Remarks delivered at Windows into Syria, May 14, 2016
Personally, when I think of the refugee crisis it’s incredibly simple. Yes, the politics behind the crisis in Syria are complicated, but the question of whether or not the US and other countries should accept refugees is easy to answer. Of course we should! It comes down to this: these refugees are human beings, just like us, they are children who want to watch cartoon shows, just like us, they are students who want to become somebody special when they grow up, just like us, they are mothers, fathers, and grandparents and they deserve the right to live a peaceful life.
I believe that it’s in our human nature to care for others and to yearn for the feeling of being cared for. Simple. But how can we expect to make the world a more humane place if some of us no longer feel compassionate towards certain groups of people based on the color of their skin, the language that they speak, the holy book that they pray from or the place that they call home? And furthermore, how can we expect human beings who feel that they are superior to get rid of their prejudices and deadly stereotypes if the news that is being broadcasted on a daily basis is only fueling fear, anger, and hatred portraying refugees as terrorists? If a Syrian refugee is no longer seen as a respected member of our world but as a demonized object who somewhere along the way was stripped of the basic right to at least try and have a normal life. If we are living in a world in which governments feel that they can bomb their problems away, forgetting that when they say they are going to bomb a country with the intent of killing terrorists, that also means sacrificing the lives of millions and millions of civilians as collateral damage.
This week I randomly asked 35 students from various grades and different genders at Newton South if they think that the US should accept Syrian refugees. The answer was overwhelmingly, yes, with only 8 people saying that they don’t think the US should be involved. Some were concerned that these refugees would take away jobs and ruin the economy. So I told them that numerous studies have proven that immigrants increase the labor force and consumer demand and bring new skills with them allowing them to start new businesses. A paper published in 2014 by four economists also found that immigration benefited local populations in 19 of the 20 industrialized countries they studied. Others were worried that these syrians “could be ISIS” as Donald Trump put it! So I reminded them that the US State Department issues visas to tens of thousands of immigrants each year and they don’t go through even half as much screening as a refugee does. It takes at least four years for refugees to be approved to enter the US and another two years of screening when they are here. So far 50 percent of those who have entered are children and 25 percent are above the age of 65. So no, the five year old child who is entering the country with his family is not a terrorist. Another person said that these refugees have a choice and so they shouldn’t choose to come to America. I tried to keep my calm as I told this person that it’s not as if they’re given a menu covered with hearts and smiley faces and can fill in a bubble next to the country that appeals to them most. It doesn’t work like that, if they really had a choice they would choose to continue living in their home but that’s too dangerous.
I started Newton South Peace Action in order to start a conversation and open people’s eyes. To at least try and show them that there are many, many people in our world who are suffering and to show them that, yes, the world is a big, scary place, but shutting out reality and only thinking about our small, sheltered Newton bubble means that we are inevitably moving in a backwards direction as we continuously miss opportunities to help people in need. My club is devoted to raising awareness on issues of injustice, educating others, giving young people who often feel powerless a voice, and taking active steps that will lead us in a forward moving and more accepting direction.
Today, thanks to our great speakers, we heard about numerous ways to get involved and help refugees. Some of those include creating a petition or signing on to one that already exists. Making donations to trust worthy organizations that are fully devoted to the cause. Organizing events, similar to this one, to raise awareness. Calling your senators or congressmen and directly reaching out to news organizations. This can be done by writing articles, and making media visits as a group in order to get your voice out into the public and to bring a new less islamophobic perspective out into the media. Reminding people that the Syrian refugees are no different from me or you. They were just unlucky to live in a country that is now torn by violence, chaos, and devastation. All any of us wish for is a normal life, meaning that we have health, happiness and safety and for them a normal life is one that is free of violence, free of chaos, free of devastation, and free of war. All they wish for is to feel that they are cared for, and that is something that we can help with by following the action steps that our speakers suggested and joining MAPA’s ongoing efforts.
Kimia Tabatabaei is a sophomore at Newton South High School and the founder of Newton South High School Peace Action.