A Photo We Can’t Ignore

Photograph by Nilufer Demir

Photograph by Nilufer Demir

With the release of the photo of a three-year old drowned Syrian Kurd refugee, the United States has been drawn into the story that have made the main headlines in Europe for months. This is not just a Syrian or European issue, this is relevant to us in a time when Donald Trump makes headlines over his racist ideals on our own immigration issues. At least nine million Syrian refugees are currently seeking safe shelter after armed conflict between the government and several opposition groups began in 2011. This is hardly an isolated issue. About 10.5 million people worldwide have been forced to escape due to current conditions in their home country. 

Many of the people who have managed to escape enter another country or are caught trying to do so, then are placed in temporary refugee housing. The current refugee climate has many countries talking, with some upping the number of refugees they will admit, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and the United States included.

Surprisingly, Donald Trump has decided that this issue is best left to Europe. Or rather, he first stated that we should allow Syrian refugees into the US and then decided that the US should take care of itself first, leaving Europe to decide what’s best. This is a very complicated issue. What’s clear is that people should not be forced to live in these conditions and that the rest of the world cannot stand by ignoring them.

A friend of mine is working with a North American NGO, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). One of the Lebanese NGOs she is working with has a food voucher distribution for refugees, which gives out food vouchers that can be traded in for cash value of food at local supermarkets. It’s not much— a $20 voucher per month per person for up to 5 people in a household. However, a similar program gives out vouchers of just $13.50 a month. It’s the little things that help, though.

My friend started a newsletter that will be emailed to friends and family to keep them updated, as well as to share information about her work. Recently, she included some words from conversations with partners of MCC. They said, “….[b]y providing basic food and education people are better able to survive and wait to go back to Syria when it is safe.  Europe is not the paradise for refugees that people think it is, plus we don’t want the Syrian people to vanish.  We believe that the best solution is for refugees to stay close to home in Lebanon or Jordan so that when the time comes they will be able to go back to their homeland.  Instead of spending millions on immigration that will only provide cheap labor opportunities for the refugees, support the Syrians in Lebanon.”

We should concentrate on areas like Lebanon. As my friend goes on to explain, the life Syrian refugee will face in places such as Lebanon and Jordan are much better (not great, but better) than that of the one they will have in Europe and North America. There they will likely be forced to take a menial, low paying jobs or will not be able to get a job and will be separated from their home and culture. By staying near home, they can avoid the cultural and language barriers that come from moving West.

I am thankful for the work that my friend and organizations like MCC are doing. We cannot turn a blind eye to this situation. This is a worldwide problem, with millions of families trying to just live their life, but fearing for it everyday. We cannot shut them out any longer, we have to reach out to them, hands outstretched, ready to help.

For more on the Syrian refugee crisis, including the work MCC is doing, click here.

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