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(Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)

(Nuccio DiNuzzo / Chicago Tribune)

By Maggie Roache, Nazareth

This piece was originally intended to be one of optimism. After the fall of Aleppo to Syrian government forces and the worldwide response of solidarity with the Syrian people through social media, it was intended to investigate how local groups of people and organizations are working to help Syrian refugees abroad and even in the Chicago area. However, in the past few days, everything has changed, as the Trump administration indefinitely suspended the acceptance of Syrian refugees and temporarily banned people from seven, predominantly Muslim, nations (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) from entering the US. Now, local organizations such as RefugeeOne face uncertain futures.

Recently, Illinois, along with California and Michigan, represented one of the top three states accepting Syrian refugees. RefugeeOne has been helping refugees who are brought to the US through the US State Department and sent to Chicago for resettlement. Every year their 45 staff members, many of whom were refugees themselves, and 400 volunteers have helped 2,500 refugees and immigrants of all ages, ethnic groups, faiths and backgrounds to find housing, learn English, acclimate to American culture, develop computer and job readiness skills, secure employment, obtain medical and other care, apply for citizenship, and develop overall family strengthening skills. They have helped provide resettlement services, job readiness and placement services, English language training, immigration and citizenship services, computer training programs and more. When The Mash reached out to them earlier this week to request an interview, a representative from RefugeeOne responded that “Unfortunately, in light of the new administration’s recent and forthcoming announcements regarding refugee resettlement, we are not taking media requests at this time,” with uncertainty about the future leaving them unable to talk to the press. However, since the announcement of Trump’s order concerning refugees, RefugeeOne updated their website saying that they were “devastated” by his executive action and that “in the next 3 weeks, 15 families including 14 children were scheduled to arrive at O’Hare.”

However, all hope is not lost. The large responses of protestors at major airports in New York, Virginia, Chicago and many more major cities demonstrated the people’s dedication to the issue. Additionally, although the future is uncertain for RefugeeOne, they are still accepting donations to benefit families they have helped in the past. In addition to large organizations, individuals have also been working to bring about change in any ways that they can, as is the case with Maddy Schierl, a senior at Nazareth Academy. She started a project called Seniors for Syria at her school, where she is asking each member of her senior class to bring in $10. The proceeds will go to an organization called Jusoor, based in Lebanon, which provides refugee children with educational and community outreach programs. Schierl emphasized the importance of their work, saying “which [their work] is important because if the kids that have gone through so much horrible, terrible trauma and stress in Syria don’t get the foundation before integrating into Lebanese schools, then a whole cultural developmental problem happens with their generation.” Inspired by what she learned about the refugee crisis in her Current World Issues class, Schierl started this program to remind everyone about the importance of the issue. She also explained how she understands the hesitation to send the military into another country, but said that “I think the least that the global population can do is be more open to refugees coming in and I do also understand concerns about terrorist threats, but…I think actually that being open counteracts the larger possibility of terrorism because if you are more accepting, and you aren’t putting up walls, and you aren’t alienating people, and I think then it becomes more of a community where violent acts are less likely.”

In many ways, the narrative of this story has changed from one of present to past, as many organizations dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants face an uncertain future. However, one thing is for certain: the people, like Schierl and those who gathered at airports and protests across the country, will not stand aside quietly.

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