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Bringing into Focus the Human Lives Behind the Refugee Debate

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Frank Sharry: “We must protect America and protect refugees”

As Governors try to lock their state’s doors to Syrian refugees, Congress prepares legislation to shut them out of America, and some even call for a return to internment camps, the human stories at the heart of this humanitarian crisis have not received the attention they deserve.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice Education Fund: “As Congress prepares to vote on legislation barring our gates to Syrian refugees, they need to keep the faces and stories of these men, women and children in mind.  What would you do if you were them?  Where would you go?  Wouldn’t you want the world to help you?  We must protect America and protect refugees. It’s not so much a policy choice as it is an obligation to fellow human beings.”

Here are some of the faces and stories that our nation’s leaders need to keep in mind when they get ready to declare or vote:

The photo of three year-old Aylan Kurdi, drowned in Turkey, brought the horror that Syrians are experiencing daily to the rest of the world—a world that had been unwilling to see.  Kurdi’s Aunt Tima, speaking after his death, said: “Every day kids have drowned.  But before Aylan died, people read it and moved on. That boy, that picture, meant something.”  It meant something indeed.  It forced people to finally put themselves in someone else’s shoes.  The situation is so bad in Syria that parents and children are literally risking their lives to flee.  Yet some Members of Congress and Governors think our doors should be closed to people like Aylan and his family.

They would also close the doors to thirteen year-old Kinan Masalmeh, a young boy who managed to flee Syria with his sister.  Speaking to an Al Jazeera America reporter while in Hungary, Kinah makes a moving plea: “Please help the Syrians,” Kinan says to the camera. “Syrians need help now.” The rawness of the video and this young boy’s plea must be heard by policymakers before casting their votes.

And a story from Reuters shows how open arms in America can transform the lives of one Syrian family.  Mohammad And Rabboh, the patriarch of the family which now lives in California, says that back in Syria: “We witnessed things that are difficult to describe.  You walk in the street and someone falls dead right in front of you.”  Now, the children and family are safe and happy.  They no longer wake up screaming in the night.”

In a compelling op-ed published on MSNBC.com today, attorney David Leopold describes exactly what is at stake in the coming congressional votes: “Closing the door to Syrian refugees would be a shameful abdication of America’s global leadership role. Europe’s right wing anti-immigrant parties will win the day and refugees fleeing war and persecution will be either trapped in a land where 250,000 have died or we’ll see more children’s bodies washed up on the shores of Europe and, likely, America.”

World VisionUNHCRUS Committee for Refugees and ImmigrantsChurch World Service, and many other refugee organizations collected many more stories of refugees, particularly children, fleeing violence from Syria and around the world.  Their faces need to be seen and their voices need to be heard in this debate.