ASU clubs raise awareness about continuing Syrian refugee crisis

Campus clubs publicize, advocate for and provide direct aid to refugees here and abroad

With over 5.5 million Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the crisis has surpassed WWII in the number of people displaced. With plans from the government to limit the intake of refugees for the upcoming year and to cut or eliminate refugee services, organizations are attempting to continue raising awareness, including in the ASU community.

There are over a dozen organizations at ASU that aim to help refugees accustom to a new language, culture and the economic market. 

Refugee Alliance is dedicated to helping Syrian refugees settle in as quickly as possible. The club's goal is to "empower refugee youth to achieve all that they can by building connections between people with cultures different than their own," co-president and psychology senior Haya Sweidan said in an email. 

Sweidan said the club meets weekly in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood in West Phoenix that house several refugee families. There, they organize programs to entertain and tutor the children of these families.

On Tuesday, the club hosted a bake sale in Tempe where five Syrian refugee bakers sold their handmade pastries, alongside handmade soap and jewelry. All the profit went straight to the refugee vendors.

The club's other co-president, Mulki Mehari, a global health senior, co-founded Refugee Alliance after a 14-year journey of self-discovery and adjustment to American culture as a young refugee.

 “My family was accepted as American refugees after having lived in Ethiopia and Rwanda for almost a decade," Mehari said in an email interview. "Adjusting to American life in Phoenix, Arizona was the biggest challenge."

She said that her personal experience as a refugee laid the groundwork for her organization.

"Drawing on my experience as a young refugee battling for self-confidence against constant self-doubt, I was led to co-found Refugee Alliance."

Another organization that helps Syrian refugees is Students Organize for Syria, a nationwide NGO with an ASU chapter that is committed to raising awareness about refugees in times when media coverage is low. SOS hosted large-scale fundraising events on campus to raise thousands of dollars to help NGOs involved in the refugee crisis. 

Former SOS vice-president and biology and psychology ASU alumnus Hamed Alattar said the club aims to promote awareness of the issue and to advocate and fundraise for refugees in Arizona. 

"Most recently, instead of the international focus and humanitarian aid, we are now focused on what we could do locally," Alattar said. "We moved away from any political affiliation to focus more on the impact of our community."

One of the club’s longest-running programs is the tutoring program in which ASU students go to local community centers every Saturday to tutor refugee children. 

“There was never a need for specific requirements, so any ASU student can help," Alattar said. "You didn’t have to be an Arabic speaker. It’s nice to see ASU students come together for a cause. We continue to try to bring Syria up and remind people of what’s happening there.”

There are only a few states that accept more refugees than Arizona. Alattar said although the state has an established infrastructure and network of support in the community, there is always need for more help.

“Despite the recent subside in refugees entering Arizona, there is always a need to help the community through financial and educational means," Alattar said. "There continues to be families who come who need beds, cars and even cellphones, and the community steps up when they can." 

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