A University of Minnesota law student who organized a rally in support of Syrian refugees last weekend said she believes more Minnesota lawmakers and residents are getting behind the idea of the United States taking in some of the people fleeing a civil war in their country.
Suzan Boulad, a Syrian-American who moved to Minnesota two years ago, said more than 40 people turned out for a demonstration in Minneapolis' Minnehaha Park, even though she organized it on short notice. Boulad said she was inspired to raise awareness about the plight of the refugees following the wide publication of a photo of a 3-year-old boy who drowned after escaping Syria with his family — a photo that had attracted sympathy and commentary from around the world.
She said Minnesota is well-positioned to be a leader on the asylum issue because it has opened its arms to other refugee groups in the past, and because some of its elected officials have already given their public support to the refugees. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., is one of 14 senators who this spring signed a letter to President Obama, urging the U.S. to take 65,000 refugees. The senators noted that only 700 refugees had been accepted by the U.S. since the civil war began five years ago.
The U.N. has said it wants to resettle 130,000 refugees, though the total number of people displaced by the conflict is in the millions.
Rep. Keith Ellison. D-Minn., this summer introduced a bill to improve the way the government handles refugee resettlement, and to direct more grants to help refugees settle into American communities.
Boulad, whose own family in Syria has been affected by the war, said it's important for individuals to share their own stories to humanize the crisis. She said people in the U.S. have sometimes been quick to write off the problem because of its complexity, or because of their fears about terrorism in certain parts of the world.
"Unfortunately I'll hear so often that Syria is complicated, or they don't know where to start, or the over-arching theme of: "But isn't everyone there a terrorist?" she said.
But Boulad said she thinks the reaction from other countries, which have taken in thousands of refugees, is something that could be replicated here.
"I think the citizens' response in Europe, the ordinary people who have come out to greet the refugees has been so inspiring," she said. "I think ordinary people in the U.S. also need to step up to the plate."