On Sunday Oct. 4, 40 concerned citizens gathered at the Watertown Free Public Library to discuss what can be done about the Syrian refugee crisis.
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The event was sponsored by Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice and the Environment, and featured guest speaker Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), the state’s largest organization representing the foreign born. Ms. Millona described the work MIRA does to resettle immigrants and refugees, helping them learn English, find employment, and become American citizens. She shared much expertise and knowledge, and answered many excellent questions raised by attendees.
There was a clear outpouring of support from those in attendance. Some are ready to open their homes now, but there are very few Syrian refugees currently entering the United States. Those who seek refuge must apply while they are still overseas, from within a refugee camp. They have to rigorously prove they are who they say they are, and establish that they risk persecution due to religious affiliation, political belief, gender, or ethnic identity. Due to the events of 9/11, stringent background checks have slowed this process. In the four years since the Syrian civil war began, only 1,500 Syrian refugees have resettled in the United States. Most of these are in Michigan, California, and Illinois. During discussion, Amira Elamri, a Syrian refugee living in Watertown, shared her own daunting story, including the fact that after two years, she is still waiting for a status interview.
The most immediate action to help Syrian refugees must happen at the federal level. MIRA supports a bipartisan bill to expedite refugee status for Syrians, HR 1568 Protecting Religious Minorities Persecuted by ISIS Act – https://www.opencongress.org/bill/hr1568-114/show. Contacting our Congressional representatives is urgent.
Ms. Millona also reminded attendees of the refugee crisis closer to home last year, which roused similar emotions, but has been mostly forgotten by the media: a huge increase in unaccompanied children from Central America, who crossed US borders to escape brutal violence in their communities. MIRA is currently working on 120 cases of minors in deportation proceedings.
You can learn more about MIRA at: http://MIRAcoalition.org, including their celebration of immigrants at “Our Shared Table,” an annual community-wide Thanksgiving Luncheon. This year’s luncheon takes place on Nov. 16 at the State House, and Governor Baker will be in attendance. The luncheon is free, but pre-registration is required.
At the request of members who were in attendance at last Sunday’s gathering, Watertown Citizens for Peace, Justice, and the Environment is forming a sub-group to work on immigrant/refugee issues. If you are interested in participating, please email email@example.com