Last year, the International Rescue Committee, a New York-based organization that “…helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster,” was able to help more than 23 million people—providing healthcare, educational opportunities, and financial support, among other things.
— IRC Intl Rescue Comm (@theIRC) August 30, 2016
We encourage the White House to consider this 10k resettled Syrian refugees milestone ‘a floor & not a ceiling.’: https://t.co/Sb4yQBunaQ
— IRC Intl Rescue Comm (@theIRC) August 29, 2016
Now other groups across the country are joining the struggle.
On Sunday, August 28th, people gathered at the Washington Monument for the “DC Rally 4 Refugees”—an event intended to raise awareness about these issues and many others that are faced by refugees around the world. Throughout the day, performers and speakers shared their understanding of the refugee crisis. Their speeches and performances made the issues faced by those who in some cases live half a world away, just that much more real to people living here in the United States.
According to the event’s website, the event was also meant to be a call to action—urging the US to make more decisive moves “…to alleviate suffering through relief efforts and refugee resettlement.”
People were certainly listening that day, as organizers and performers plead their case using both words and actions.
— Progressive Congress (@ProgCongress) August 28, 2016
“The event was a very nice gathering. It was a good outcome," says Zareen Taj, an Afghan human rights activist, “A lot of people came out. It was not easy for people to be in the sun and the heat, but they came.”
Taj can understand many of the issues that the rally hoped to address. She fled Afghanistan, settled in Pakistan as a refugee, and finally came to the United States as a refugee in 2000.
“My life was in danger because the Taliban was in power,” she says of life under Taliban rule, “The women were not allowed to go outside, so forget [about] doing things against them.” In 2004, Taj returned to Afghanistan to document the lives of those who have survived Taliban massacres.
That said, when she got an email from the Executive Director of the DC rally, Taj says she was “very happy to accept her request to be part of the rally and be a speaker there.” For her, this was an opportunity to give back to those who now stand where she once stood when she was a refugee.
“I know what it means professionally or personally, to survive the situation, the war, to come to here to make a normal life,” she says.
The event made an effort to show just how diverse refugee experiences are. For example, Taj remembers when a Syrian woman spoke, and sang a song. “It was very powerful,” she says, “It was very moving.” She continues, noting that the different performers and the different speakers all conveyed a different message that day.
“All of them were very appealing,” she says.
Unfortunately, there were some limits on what event organizers were able to do. Fatema Hasani attended the rally, and provided some of the pictures included with this article. Hasani is from Afghanistan, and still has family living there.
“I really like this program, but they forgot Afghan refugees,” she says, “Just a few [speakers] talking about them.”
Zareen Taj would like to see more outreach programs, and more events like the rally so people can truly understand just how diverse refugee experiences are, and better meet each group’s specific needs. Refugee resettlement is also a particularly big concern.
Some might say that the rally couldn’t have happened at a better time. Now, with the possibility of a Donald Trump presidency looming on the horizon, people are developing their own responses to his charged, anti-refugee and anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Zareen Taj, like many, finds Trump’s rhetoric to be insulting.
When asked how she, as a refugee, would respond to Trump’s rhetoric, she offers the following response: “That it’s insult[ing]. That it’s not was refugees look like. That it’s not what immigrants in this country look like.”
While Trump claims that refugees and immigrants pose a threat to national security, Taj wants to encourage immigrants and refugees to get involved, and set the record straight. She wants to see them reminding people that refugees are actually trying to escape from harm and escape from the terrorists.
Most importantly, while Trump wants to limit the number of immigrants and refugees we take in, Taj says that it is time for ordinary citizens to pressure their politicians to accept MORE refugees.
“Those people are dying to make that kind of dangerous journey to be at a safe place…” she explains, “They’re professional people. They’re highly educated people…They have to leave the country for the sake of their safety.”