Syrian students rally for refugee acceptance

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DePaul Senior Deborah Tshimena counts the letters signed by protesters at the event. (Jack Higgins / The DePaulia)

DePaul Senior Deborah Tshimena counts the letters signed by protesters at the event. (Jack Higgins / The DePaulia)

Protesters rallied outside the James R. Thompson Center Sunday to voice their opposition to Governor Rauner’s call to stop Syrian refugees from entering Illinois.

The protest was conceived and organized by Students Organize for Syria, or SOS, who created the Facebook group #RefugeesWelcome. SOS then welcomed groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, the Karam Foundation and the Syrian American Society to join the protest against the moratorium on accepting refugees in light of the Paris attacks.

“Countries in Europe and now own country, the United States, want to close their borders to innocent Syrian refugees fleeing the violence that has consumed their homeland,” said Mahdi Sahloul, the Vice President of SOS Loyola in his speech.

Sahloul, whose parents are Syrian immigrants, still visited Syria up until 2011 when the attacks on protesters of Assad’s government were attacked. He still has grandparents in Syria and believes that the U.S. is unaware of the innocent people they are keeping out.

“We also have to look at the impact refugees have had on this country,” Sahloul said. “Not many people know that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian refugee, and his impact on telecommunication and technology in general is enormous.”

Loyola University Chicago student Madhi Sahloul speaks out against Rauner calling to close U.S. borders to refugees.

Loyola University Chicago student Madhi Sahloul speaks out against Rauner calling to close U.S. borders to refugees. (Jack Higgins / The DePaulia)

Mariam Saleh, President of DePaul’s SOS organization, acted as the host of the event introducing the various speakers throughout the protest. Saleh helped organize the event as the next step after her letter to Rauner last month. She encouraged protesters to sign open letters that would urge Rauner to “retract (his) statement as it is not representative of the views of (his) constituents.”

Protesters stood in a circle carrying signs reading “Refugees Welcome,” “Our kids will die while you are debating” and “There is an ‘ASS’ in ‘ASSAD’” as they listened to the numerous speakers from various foundations.

“The U.S. has only accepted 2,000 Syrian refugees out of the 4 million Syrian refugees, and President Obama’s promise to increase that number in 2016 to 10,000 is so small and minuscule in comparison to the other countries that have shared the burden of this terrible war,” said Lina Sergie Attar, co-founder of the Karam Foundation.

Attar, a Syrian-American, founded the Karam Foundation in 2007 to help spread “Karam,” or generosity, throughout the world, and after the 2011 the foundation has focused its goals to provide aid in Syria. The foundation has specifically focused on education of Syrian youth, and rebuild schools ravaged by war in their two yearly mission trips to Turkey and Syria.

“Our CIA, our State Department, our FBI warned the White House that if we don’t do something in 2011 (we are going to be in the position we are now),” said Mohyeddin Kassar, President of the Syrian American Society. “ISIS, the mess in the United States, the mess in Syria, it’s not a surprise.”

Kassar is not only the President of the Syrian American Society, but he is also the father of DePaul student and SOS activist Jumana Kassar, who also spoke and attended the event. Kassar’s speech concluded the protest with a round of applause.

“Every time I read our history, I find my own story repeated in (the story of the) Mayflower,” Kassar said. “(Syrian refugees share) the same reasoning from the first guy who landed with the Mayflower to the last guy who arrived on this land to get away from Nazis, execution, persecution, all kinds of discrimination and war.”