Two of my fellow graduates of Wayne State University in Detroit are abroad looking into the situation of Syrian refugees.
Neda Kadri, a Syrian first generation American from Dearborn, Michigan is currently in Greece as part of a volunteer group that is helping rafts full of people onto shore and assisting with immediate aid such as mittens and blankets. Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian first generation American from Southwest Detroit and former Michigan Congresswoman, is part of a delegation visiting refugee camps in Lebanon along with Ali Saleh, the mayor of Bell, Michigan. They are doing a brilliant job bringing light to the American people regarding the desperate yet seemingly permanent situation of Syrian refugee families.
"Most days are 15 plus hours of nonstop work. I haven't even yet processed what I'm experiencing," Neda Kadri messaged me. "I've never felt as alive as I do on this island. I've found my calling and it is I that is grateful for the opportunity to serve!"
The volunteer group, whom celebrity Susan Sarandon joined for a day, waits by the shore for rafts full of refugees. People in wetsuits wade into the frigid water to bring people ashore. The weather is cold, but this has not stopped the influx of refugees. As each raft lands, the people shout "Allahu Akbar!" and help the people onto land. Many rafts arrive every day. When it is pouring rain and these people have no shelter. People can hand out blankets but at a certain point, everything is soaking wet.
"We are deeply concerned because hundreds of refugees and migrants are continuing to arrive despite the winter cold," said Boris Cheshirkov, the UNHCR spokesperson on Lesbos.
Cheshirkov said that in the first three weeks of 2016, more than 20,000 people have arrived after crossing the Mediterranean, more than the total numbers of arrivals for the first five months of 2015. "It's an incredibly desperate situation. Yesterday alone, on January 20, we saw about 40 boats, overloaded rubber dinghies, amid ice cold winds, with snow and rough seas, coming through this perilous journey from Turkey to Greece to seek safety," Cheshirkov said.
Ongoing funds are desperately needed to provide basic necessities to people landing on shore. https://www.gofundme.com/85evvexn
There is no government, nor NGO, who is doing this. This is a totally volunteer group relying on your donations to help each Syrian person arriving on a raft.
Meanwhile. Rashida Tlaib visited Shatila refugee camp of Palestinians that had to flee their homes in 1949 and 1969. The delegation from Michigan not only observed but played with the children, some of whom were wearing flip flops in the snow. The delegation traveled about two hours from Beirut over the snowy mountains to the border of Syria, in the Bekaa Valley. They found a small camp full of Syrian refugee families being housed in temporary shacks. Some have lived there for nearly 5 years.
"Their stories deserve to be told individually. Like Hajji who is 9 years old but is smaller than an average 5 year old and healthcare is really impossible. Or Zeinab who is an orphan and is mothering (pretty darn well) her younger brother and has more dignity and honor than I can fathom. And Yisra who is embarrassed she has worn the same pink outfit for 3 yrs and can sing her ABCs so well," writes Kristin McCarthy.
"My heart broke today. This is beyond a crisis," reported Rashida Altlaib. "When we pulled up to Barelias Syrian Refugee Camp in Bekaa Valley, it was three large fields of tent homes. So many children, beautiful children who are more than statistics spewed out in the news and policy briefs we are given. The health clinic coordinator said he never seen people like us who just stopped and played with the kids, but really looked at them and listened. The tears won't stop when I think of those precious faces. May Allah protect them and give them strength, Ya Rab." The group also visited Burj el Barajneh refugee camp in Lebanon.
"Met with U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Stephen Beecroft. Most people think of the pyramids when Egypt is mentioned, it is so much more. One of four Arabs in the world are Egyptian and the instability in the country can impact the rest of the world because of the importance of the Suez Canal," posted the Mayor Ali Saleh, of Bell, Michigan.
The Arab American Institute delegation held a panel forum at the American University of Cairo on public policy and the experience of serving as Arab Americans in our communities. Rashida took some photos of Shatila Refugee Camp, which demonstrate a serious need for electric rewiring.
"Over the past 4 years, I've been touched and deeply saddened by the Syrian refugees suffering due to the war in their country. Yesterday, the Arab American Institute delegation #aaiusa visited a refugee camp in the border area of Lebanon in the Bekaa Valley. None of us were prepared to the human tragedy we've witnessed no matter how many pictures/ videos we've seen, articles we've read or conversations we've had about it.
"Hearing from Zeinab how both of her parents were killed in the war, and how she fled Aleppo with her grandmother and uncle is heartbreaking. Zeinab and her friend Aya insisted that I have a cup of tea in their tents.
"Hajji is 8 years old boy looks like a 5 years old due to a disease. His mother has desperately talked to every agency that visits the camp to no avail. A mobile "pharmacy" , a doctor and two nurses visit the camp once a month to provide medical care. As moving as these pictures are, the tragedy is much bigger to be depicted in pictures, videos or even personal stories!"
These amazing women from Detroit area are bringing us the real situation.