Refugees welcome: UB students express support for Syrian refugees


Asli Yalim hopes to bridge the gap between the United States and Syria.

Yalim, a PhD student studying social work and focusing on refugees, is determined to bring focus to the Syrian migrant crisis at UB.

In January of 2011, Arab Spring protests led to a civil war in Syria that has lasted for more than four years. It’s the reason for the departure of more than 4 million Syrians to various areas around the world, according to The New York Times. As the refugees continue to flow to other countries, the question of where to house them has become an international crisis.

The United States has accepted approximately 1,500 Syrian refugees since 2011. According to the New York State Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance, 6,294 refugees from all over the world came to Buffalo between 2010 and 2014.

“We need to educate people about not the political aspect, but about what these people have gone through in their countries and what kind of help and resources we can provide,” Yalim said. “These people need the basics: food, water and shelter.”

Yalim is from Turkey, a neighboring country to Syria, and is aiming for a PhD so that she can “be an expert and have a voice.”

While studying at UB, Yalim hopes to eventually become qualified to evoke changes. Yalim’s main goal is to eventually provide mental health screening for refugees coming to the United States.

She encourages that in light of this crisis, students offer emotional support beyond material support in order to address the psychological effects of the trauma that many refugees suffer.

“It shouldn’t be something extra, but a requirement,” Yalim said. “From the literature we know that these people come from traumatic experiences … they’re exposed to war, torture and all kinds of violence. And yet within six months they’re expected to be self-sufficient.”

Although the primary needs of refugees are more along the lines of housing and employment, she said that this mental assessment would better prepare a refugee for a productive life in the United States.

Yalim would also like to focus on empowerment-based approaches, such as a support groups for women. She also advises that once more Syrian students come to UB, counseling services should create a support group for those students.

Lemma Al-Ghanem, a senior architecture major, said students need to be better educated on the topic.

“I think people shy away from talking about [the crisis] in general because they think it’s a political problem,” Al-Ghanem said. “But at this point it’s turned into an international humanitarian crisis.”

The lack of discussion on campus is why some concerned individuals turn to social media to spread the word. UB graduate M. Akram Shibly is one of them.

“I think as UB students we can spread awareness on social media,” Shibly said. “For example, there’s a hashtag going around [called] #refugeeswelcome. Spreading awareness and spreading positivity is what it’s about.”

Yalim also encourages the use of social media to gain support. She also advises students to take time away from “mainstream media” and read European and Middle-Eastern articles on the crisis to understand the different perspectives.

With the use of social media, UB students hope to raise awareness help bring to an end to this struggle and follow through with real volunteering efforts once more refugees come to Erie County.

“They’re about to be our neighbors,” Shibly said. “When they do come, refugee resettlement agencies are going to be responsible for their accommodations, but it’s up to us to volunteer our time and let refugees know they’re welcome.”

As event coordinator of the Organization of Arab Students (OAS), Al-Ghanem supports tangible efforts to help. She said people can help through things like OAS’s winter drive that collects gently used items for refugees and Journey’s End, a Buffalo Christian community organization that offers tutoring services, donation drives, mentoring and more.

Michael Jonas is a news staff writer. The news desk can be reached