Courtney promotes refugee solidarity, President-elect promotes restricting immigration

Congressman Joe Courtney, nonprofit organization IRIS representatives Ann Plumley and Mark Hand, and two Syrian refugees held a panel discussion centered around the Syrian Refugee Crisis in the SU Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 10, 2016. (Akshara Thejaswi/The Daily Campus)

With the backdrop of the United States presidential election results, over 100 University of Connecticut students and guests packed the Student Union theater on Thursday to attend an event promoting solidarity with the victims of the Syrian refugee crisis. The event occurred on the same day the incoming presidential administration had officiated a highly restrictive immigration plan.

Describing his life during the tribulations his family faced at the onset of the Syrian Civil War,  Syrian Refugee and Connecticut resident Ahmed Karjna said through an interpreter, “All we wanted was to live a normal life, and all we faced was certain death.”

Hosted by students in the UConn Department of Human Rights, the event was titled “From Syria to Our Backyard,” and featured a panel that provide both a forum for guests to ask questions about the crisis as well as a discussion to go over common concerns about the challenges refugees face. The speakers featured in the panel discussion included U.S. State Representative Joe Courtney, Syrian refugees and representatives of the Connecticut based Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement (QCRR) program.

One of the most prominent narratives featured during the event was the description of support that the local community had provided. Quiet Corner Refugee Resettlement in particular is a program that has played an active role in resettlement and is comprised of a partnership of 30 different faith based communities.

“I would say that what we provide them really is hospitality, services and support,” QCRR volunteer Reverend Ann Pumley said. “We do what we can to get them resettled as quickly as possible and as successfully as possible”

A somber backdrop that shaped the tone of the evening was the recent election of Donald Trump as the presumptive 45th President of the U.S. The transition government had earlier in the day issued a policy statement on a new government website, which would arguably end the admittance of any more Syrian refugees.  In the 10-point plan that was drawn from the president-elects campaign, it was stated that the U.S. will “Suspend the Issuance of Visas to Any Place Where Adequate Screening Cannot Occur."

Congressman Joe Courtney pointed out the glaring flaws off this sweeping statement, particularly the misconception that refugees can not be adequately screened. Courtney additionally added the advantages that a comprehensive refugee policy provides U.S. interests.

“The military leadership is very clear, especially in the Middle East right now, that it is in our national security interest to have a roll in helping in the refugee crisis,” said Courtney “It sends a very positive message to other nations that we care about them, we respect their religion and this helps foster allies in our abilities to fight ISIS.”

Marc Hand, a volunteer of Gilead Congregational Church's refugee resettlement team, also pointed out the positive impact that the refugees have imparted on their new communities.

“It has brought our community together and it has brought people that normally would not be doing things together, together,” Hand said. “We have learned more about the Syrian culture and we have learned more about ourselves.”

During the discussion, the role that Connecticut state legislators have played in combating Syrian crisis was largely condoned. Connecticut is one of nine states, which has actively encouraged resettlement for refugees from Syria, a policy that is in stark contrast to the rest of the nation. Of the nearly 13,000 refugees accepted by the country, Connecticut has accepted more than 800.  

“The political leadership in terms of Governor Malloy in really forthrightly saying that Connecticut is a State where the door is open has helped to keep that momentum going forward,” Courtney said. “This is about our countries finest traditions, and that is welcoming immigrants.”  

Following the question and answer session with the guests, the event encouraged audience members to actively get involved in ways that would benefit Syrian refugees.

“With all the resources that we have, we have a civil and moral obligation to these people,” said fifth semester human rights and woman and sexuality studies double major Allyson Lavigne. “It would not be morally sound to dose off our border when our country and state has the ability to provide a safe haven for so many Syrian refugees”

Students were particularly encouraged to volunteer, and those with knowledge of Arabic and Turkish were recommended to work as translators for QCRR. UConn students in attendance were also told to join student awareness and advocacy organizations.

Despite the seemingly bleak outlook of the future of the Syrian refugee program “From Syria to Our Backyard” organizer and fifth semester physiology and human rights major Eeman Abbasi remains hopeful about the possibility for aiding to end the crisis.

“I’d like to be optimistic and I feel that most Americans are good and they want to welcome more people into our communities,” Abbasi said. “Hopefully I would like to continue the line of protesting that has been happening throughout the country and demand more political change.


Fatir Qureshi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at fatir.qureshi@uconn.edu