The world continues to explode, and I mean that literally. There are bombings all over the world, almost on a daily basis, of course the ones in the Western nations get the most media attention. These are difficult times in this world, especially for those who have to flee from their homes.
Last night I was privileged to have participated on a panel with Professor Dan Shaw, Zeina Hamade of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, and Faisal Al Rawashada, who is a refugee from Syria. The panel was organized by our Agora Newspaper students and moderated by two of the students, Evan Kutz and Jacob Adams. I joined the panel only because I was unable to get any of the actual African refugees I know to travel from Grand Rapids for this discussion. Faisal is a real Syrian refugee who fled Syria because of the violence there. He now lives in Dearborn and is attempting to start over. You see, starting over is what refugees have to do, if they ever get the chance to do so.
For over five years, I served as President of the Board of the African Community Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We helped resettle and provide assistance to African refugees. There were numerous challenges for these refugees, including, but not limited to: financial, language, health, academic, cultural, etc. We provided translation services, housing, social integration, tutoring, legal services, mentoring, and much more. Individuals who have to flee their homes essentially have their whole lives turned upside down, and it takes time to adjust, especially in a strange land. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were 60 million displaced people (including refugees) in 2014; it’s higher now. Of the top 10 nations producing refugees, five are in Africa. Even as the Syrian refugee crisis escalates, the African crisis has not abated. Worldwide, matters continue to get worse, the number of refugees continues to increase and the backlash against refugees is gaining momentum. Even as this occurs, let us remember that over 50 percent of refugees are children– the most vulnerable of our society.
The United States of America is the greatest nation in the world because of our diversity. The United States is a nation of immigrants. We are all different and all of us (with the exception of American Indians) either came here from somewhere else or our ancestors did. As a result we must learn to more tolerant and understanding and not buy into the political fear-mongering and xenophobia. Refugees are people too and deserve the same opportunities that many of us have been given.