Several of the 300 families of Syrian refugees who have settled in the St. Louis area this year are still afraid to publicly condemn their former government's attacks on Aleppo — even living so far away from their native country.
“They’re worried that someone’s going to see their picture or their [social media] feed on TV, they’re going to find out who [they are] and they’re going to hurt their family in Syria,” said Faizan Sayed, executive director of Missouri’s branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Sayed reached out to at least 20 Syrian families asking them to speak at CAIR press conference Thursday denouncing the bombardment of rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo. Every single one turned him down.
“The fear is for their loved ones back home,” said Maysa Albarcha, a Syrian American and St. Louis native who spoke at the press conference.
“A lot of these refugees are coming from a society where for instance, if their own children spoke up against any government issues in class, the parents might be picked by the secret police.” Albarcha said. “So they know that speaking up in public against the government in any form could cause a lot of trouble for them.”
Albarcha said she is less concerned about speaking at the press conference because most of her family is no longer in Syria. Her parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970’s, and while she’s lived in the country her whole life, for 35 years she spent almost every summer in Syria.
Albarcha joined Sayed and local interfaith leaders in urging St. Louisans to call on the U.S. government to provide more humanitarian aid and intervene in the conflict. Officials in Aleppo have reported that more than 3,000 people were evacuated Thursday.
Sayed said CAIR felt compelled to hold the press conference in response to what the citizens of Aleppo have been asking.
“If you watch all these videos they’re basically calling on people from around the world to discuss it and highlight the massacres that are taking place that are now on a daily basis.” Sayed said.
For those who want to do something in St. Louis, Sayed recommended donating time or resources to House of Goods Baitulmal, a local non-profit serving Syrian refugees in the region.
Albarcha says people in the United States need to remember that Aleppo isn’t an isolated incident.
“This has given other leaders around the world the green light to g ahead and commit genocide against their own people, to kill, to maim, to rape, and not to be held accountable by anyone in the world,” said Albarcha.
“This shouldn’t just be something that we fear for the Syrian people,” she continued. “We should fear this for everyone.”
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