Syrian refugee crisis sparks conversation on campus

Students+participate+in+a+discussion+about+the+humanitarian+responsibility+of+helping+refugees+in+need+during+a+study+abroad+trip+to+Jordan+this+past+winter+break.
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Syrian refugee crisis sparks conversation on campus

Students participate in a discussion about the humanitarian responsibility of helping refugees in need during a study abroad trip to Jordan this past winter break.

Students participate in a discussion about the humanitarian responsibility of helping refugees in need during a study abroad trip to Jordan this past winter break.

Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois Arabic Program

Students participate in a discussion about the humanitarian responsibility of helping refugees in need during a study abroad trip to Jordan this past winter break.

Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois Arabic Program

Photo Courtesy of University of Illinois Arabic Program

Students participate in a discussion about the humanitarian responsibility of helping refugees in need during a study abroad trip to Jordan this past winter break.

By Natasha Mosquera, Staff writer

Syria is more than 6,000 miles away from Champaign, but the consequences of its civil war have spread past its border, impacting people internationally and at the University.

“I flew over the Mediterranean this past winter break and I was thinking — ‘Oh, you Mediterranean, how many people have you swallowed so far?’ — so, it’s like hundreds and thousands of people have been killed, whether it’s through war or through their journey to escape the war,” said Eman Saadah, less commonly taught languages program director and Arabic program director.

Other than fleeing to adjacent countries, many refugees have attempted the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece.

The United Nations estimates that about 11 million Syrians are hoping to seek asylum in neighboring countries, 6.3 million people are displaced within Syria and 13.5 million are still in need of humanitarian assistance.

On Jan. 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bars the State Department from issuing visas to Syrian nationals and puts the processing of Syrian refugees at a standstill.

While the United States Refugee Admissions Program has allowed the entry of Syrian refugees in the past, this will no longer be the case for an unspecified amount of time.

“I’m thinking about all these children, that they open their eyes in the morning and they see destruction, and they see a lot of lost loved ones, a mom or dad, or brother or sister who either disappeared, or is dead,” Saadah said.

For the past three years, Saadah has led University students on study abroad trips to Jordan, where they visited refugee camps, charities and nongovernmental organizations.

“We looked at different issues that these refugees have struggled with for the past few years. So this is one thing, and of course, this in addition to the financial assistance that we need to provide them with, which we here in Urbana-Champaign, as a community, are very proactive at,” Saadah said.

Saadah also said that the refugee crisis is not a problem that is detached from individuals here in the U.S.

“The community in general should be educated about what it means to be a refugee in order to deal with them in a proper way and in a humanitarian way, and also to educate our children about what it takes for us to do in order to help someone who is in this difficult situation,” Saadah said.

She said that it is not a refugee’s fault that they ended up where they ended up, and that individuals should do their best to provide concrete assistance — such as running talks or lectures — to help alleviate their struggle.

“For us to think less of them, or to think that they have contributed to the problem, it will be a big, big mistake on our part, and means that we don’t understand the full scope of their plight,” Saadah said.

Kenneth Cuno, professor of Middle Eastern history, said he attempts to spread awareness about the Syrian conflicts through his teaching, because he believes people should care about all things related to foreign affairs.

“While we may not be able to do too much to affect the situation on the ground or the welfare of the people there, we can certainly do more for the refugees, and not vilify them as terrorists but make efforts to help them,” Cuno said.

While the amount of money appropriated by Congress in a given year for refugee relief is miniscule, Cuno said refugees give a boost to the U.S. economy when they come here.

“Entire communities have been revived by refugee resettlement in the U.S. They bring talent. They’re entrepreneurial. They contribute,” he said.

Cuno recommends the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace as a good source of intelligent writing for anyone who wants to stay informed about world affairs.

Waves of refugees continue to enter Turkey in the hopes of finding work in urban communities, despite the cultural tensions that are arising as a result.

Batuhan Faydasicok, freshman in Engineering, came to the U.S. from Turkey about six months ago.

Faydasicok attended high school in Istanbul. His high school was located on Istiklal Street — one of the busiest streets in the city.

“Millions of people walk there everyday. After these events, more Syrian people came to Turkey and every street corner was packed with Syrians holding their Syrian passports and their four or five children, begging for money,” Faydasicok said.

Because of the heavily crowded streets, Faydasicok said special forces are always on the look out.

“I was walking by with this jacket, it’s a long jacket; they told me ‘turn and strip your jacket, we want to check if you have any vest,’ like a bomb vest,” Faydasicok said.

While Faydasicok hasn’t directly witnessed death and destruction in Syria, he said what he has seen on television has made him realize how unequal the world really is.

“I would like people to really take advantage of their current situation. You may not consider yourself to be really wealthy or really powerful or happy, but you have this and many people don’t,” said Faydasicok. “We can sit here and drink coffee; some other people are just trying to find some bread to feed their kids.”

Faydasicok said he is not afraid to go back home, because the danger of dying is everywhere.

While the chances of dying may be higher in Turkey, he said it’s where he belongs, because that’s where his family and values are.

Faydasicok also said he does like President Trump’s idea of building safe zones in Syria, because instead of living on the streets in Turkey and in worse conditions, refugees displaced by the war can return home.

“I think the Syria conflict should be solved in order to restore peace in the world. It might sound a bit cliché, but it’s true,” said Faydasicok. “As a person coming straight from the Middle East, I really want it to be over.”

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