Georgians Rally to Welcome Refugees, Denounce Deal’s Xenophobia

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refugee rallyWith reporting contributed by Rob Steven.  Photograph by Steve Eberhardt.

 

(APN) STONE MOUNTAIN, Georgia — Anti-refugee politicians like Gov. Nathan Deal do not speak for everyone: that was the message of a rally held on December 12, 2015 in Stone Mountain, where 150 people expressed support for bringing Syrian refugees to Georgia.

 

“We are here to to denounce [Deal’s] racist, xenophobic, anti-refugee, anti-immigrant, islamophobic, pro-war fear-mongering,” Dianne Mathiowetz, a member of the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, and rally organizer, told the crowd.

 

Last month, in November 2015, Deal signed an executive order mandating all state agencies “halt any involvement in accepting refugees from Syria for resettlement in the State of Georgia.”

 

That means that even Syrian refugees who are already here cannot access basic assistance like food stamps.

 

The order came in response to terrorist attacks in Paris, France, carried out by members of ISIS.

 

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has tread lightly around the issue.  He recently told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that the State of Georgia shouldn’t “close all borders.”

 

But the Mayor also said he believes it is important “to acknowledge genuine fear and concern from the public.”

 

Speakers at the rally challenged that idea, saying that fear of Syrians is unfounded.

 

“The people that [anti-refugee politicians] are talking about are women and children and students who want to continue their education like me,” Nour Alkhalouf, a Syrian refugee and student at Georgia State University, said.

 

“What Syrians are going through is very, very bad…we should welcome these people because they suffered from ISIS and the Assad regime more than anyone did.  They fought ISIS.  They hate ISIS,” she said.

 

Alkhalouf held a sign that read, “I am a Syrian refugee. Not a threat.”

 

Only one elected official spoke at the rally: Pine Lake City Councilman George Chidi.

 

Chidi’s father was refugee from Nigeria.  “My family knows what it means to be looking to America for safety and hope,” Chidi said.

 

He connected Deal’s anti-refugee order to examples of xenophobia in Georgia’s recent past, citing HB 87 (an anti-immigrant bill that passed in 2011), the ban on undocumented immigrants at Georgia’s top five universities, and the Ebola outbreak last year which Chidi said led to West Africans being stigmatized.

 

“This refugee crisis has us crazy again.  We are overreacting again,” he said.

 

Mathiowetz put the refugee crisis into the context of U.S. invasions and occupations in the Middle East.

 

“These wars have rained death and destruction on millions of people resulting in a humanitarian crisis of epic proportion. The world over, refugees and immigrants are seeking safety, peace, and the opportunity to raise their families and contribute to society,” she said.

 

Aladdin Kannawait, a Syrian-American who has worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan, agreed.

 

He said all the refugees he has worked with have expressed a desire to start over.

 

“Not one sound has been of reluctance or anger towards Americans of the American way.  It’s been of hope, of want for a new beginning,” Kannawati said.

 

Many motorists passing by honked and waved in appreciation.

 

(END/2015)

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