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The Refugee Crisis in Syria; President's Day at The Maltz Museum

Once again we got to see Ms. Danielle Drake, Community Relations Manager for "US Together, Inc.." at a Social Justice Institute Forum, for UN Social Justice Day, titled "The Refugee Crisis in Syria" which took place on Monday, February 20th, in Crawford Hall at CWRU.

Ms. Drake's presentation covered very much the same items that were covered at the First Unitarian Church on Sunday as she discussed the world refugee crisis and what the agencies that she works with are trying to do to help and how the allotted number of refugees allowed being allowed into the United States has been more than halved by the Trump administration.

Later, after we got home, we reviewed recent news accounts and learned that two refugee families, one from Iraq and one from Syria, were finally allowed to enter the U.S. after the travel ban was blocked. They arrived at Cleveland Hopkins Airport on where they were greeted by many welcomers including Ms. Drake. Here is a link to this story that appeared in the "Plain Dealer" on February 10th:

One interesting thing that we picked up from Ms. Drake's presentation on Monday that slipped by us on Sunday was how "Neighborhood Family Practice", at the Ridge Road location, has been training refugee women from Africa and Bhutan to be "doulas" who provide emotional and physical support to other refugee women during pregnancy and birth. Although "doulas" are not medical professional like midwives, Ms. Drake contended that their presence helped keep the infant mortality rate at a very low level in refugee camps.

Others taking part in the discussion at Monday's forum were Professor John Flores who specializes in Immigrant and Labor History and Professor Pete Moore, a respected Political Scientist that we have seen speak at other events.

Each of them only had a few minutes to speak but Professor Flores made good use of his time as he demonstrated how early immigration and citizenship policies of the United States favored "free white persons" from Europe and how Syrians were caught in a bind because there were different opinions about their status as "white persons." As a result, even before the restrictive immigration policies of the 20th Century came into being, only 90,000 (at the most) people who immigrated to the United States from Syria applied for citizenship. In later years these numbers did go up but not radically; thus Syrian Americans, or people whose ancestors were Syrian, never established the political leverage necessary to effectively demand that the U.S. take in more of their people when conditions got really rough in their native land.

Professor Moore talked about the political turmoil in the Middle East as a whole, specifically within Syria itself, that lead to the refugee crisis that is going on at this time. He discussed conditions in refugees camps and the areas surrounding them where the majority of refugees live and the potential problems of allowing the status quo to continue indefinitely. On the other hand, however, attempts at conflict resolution have not succeeded so the future remains unclear at this time.

During the Q and A, it was asked what the refugees themselves would like to see happen and there was agreement that even though the refugees were very grateful for the opportunity to resettle in another country and begin a new life, what they would really like most of all would be allowed to return home and live safely in their native lands. But, as someone pointed out, the beautiful places of home are no longer beautiful due to the violent conflicts taking place.

One young attendee talked about how her grandmother is a Palestinian refugee who resettled in Denmark. Of course, she found happiness in Denmark and made the most of the opportunities available to her but she still considers Palestine to be her home and she always will.

Earlier in the day we went to the Maltz Museum on Richmond Road in Beachwood for its annual President's Day Program.

Ms. Courtney Krieger; Manager, Student Learning and Community Engagement; explained to us that the small children who came here with their families got to make masks of either "Abe" or "George" and/or think up and write down what executive order they would issue if they were President of the United States. Among the ones that they came up with were "Equal Rights for People and Animals", "Take All Measures to Protect the Environment", and "Help People, Be More Kind."


Just as we did last year, we took a tour in which we encountered people playing U.S. Presidents George Washington (and Ms. Emma Lazarus), Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt (and Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt), Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman (and his secretary, Mr. Al Bellin). Each of the U.S. Presidents talked a little about his place in history and what he had done on behalf of the Jewish people. Along these lines, President Franklin Roosevelt deeply lamented that he couldn't do more, due to the immigration laws and the tide of anti-Semitism at the time, to assist European refugees in the prelude to the U.S. involvement in World War II.

A couple of them discussed immigration and President Theodore Roosevelt acknowledged that during his tenure from 1901 to 1909 eight million immigrants came to the United States to start a new life.

We really liked Ms. Emma Lazarus who wrote the words that appear on the base of the Statue of Liberty as part of a sonnet titled "The New Colossus". Ms. Lazarus told us that at the time the Statue of Liberty was erected in the 1880's the U.S. would welcome people who were oppressed or discriminated against. She went on to say that her own parents had to flee Spain and Portugal because they were Jewish. She discussed her own work on behalf of immigrants via helping them to learn English and acquiring work skills. She closed her presentation by saying that she hoped the Statue of Liberty would remain a "welcoming beacon to those coming to our shores" reminding us of the immigration controversies of today.

Later, we got to talk to the person playing Ms. Lazarus and learned that she was Dr. Leslie Lake, a delightful individual who told us that really liked one executive order written by one of the kids that read "No Ban, No Wall."

In addition, Dr. Lake used to do a lot to aid foreign-born students including escorting a few of them to the offices of Ms. Margaret W. Wong for help on immigration issues.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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