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MI Syrian Americans: Helping Refugees Isn't Enough

With countless villages and cities in their native land destroyed, Michiganders of Syrian descent want to see a plan in place to protect civilians and rebuild the country. Courtesy: United for a Free Syria
With countless villages and cities in their native land destroyed, Michiganders of Syrian descent want to see a plan in place to protect civilians and rebuild the country. Courtesy: United for a Free Syria
September 11, 2015

FLINT, Mich. - A photo of a toddler who died trying to flee his war-torn home in Syria has sparked worldwide concern for refugees seeking safety in Europe. But members of Michigan's Syrian American community are urging the public and policymakers not to ignore the root of the crisis.

Muna Jondy of Flint, one of the leaders of Michigan-based advocacy group United for a Free Syria, said compassion alone isn't a permanent solution.

"Everybody's talking about the refugee crisis as if this is some sort of humanitarian natural disaster, there was some sort of earthquake or flood," she said. "And yes, we have to treat the symptoms, and yes, we should be taking in more refugees, but we need to stop the cause."

Jondy said people can help address the immediate needs of the refugees by donating to U.S.-based international aid organizations, but stressed that long-term policy changes are needed to put an end to the war causing the mass exodus. Roughly 10,000 Syrian-Americans live in Michigan, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

While there has been increased public pressure on governments around the world to take in more refugees, Jondy said, it's time to dig deeper.

"A little child that washes up on a shore, refugees they're turned away, that's very black and white," she said. "But to discuss the difference between Assad and ISIS, and who are the Syrians that are actually on the ground wanting their freedom, that's a nuanced conversation."

While it is painful to watch thousands flee from Syria, Jondy said, it hurts even more to see those who remain neglected, and no plan for the future of her family's native land.

"We cannot be talking about refugees in a vacuum," she said. "There have to be civilian protections. There have to be safe zones within Syria where Syrians can live without the fear of bombs dropping on them."

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI