A large crowd gathered on the Boston Common Friday night to rally in support of the U.S. accepting Syrian refugees for resettlement. The crowd stretched from the steps at the foot of the State House to halfway to the Park Street T station.
The crowd has grown @WBUR pic.twitter.com/iQePu5Pcyr
— qainat khan (@QNK11) November 21, 2015
People held homemade signs, one reading "Refugees Welcome In MA."
Speakers at the rally denounced politicians who conflate the issue of Syrian refugees with terrorism. They included Gov. Charlie Baker in their shouts, chanting "Charlie Baker, shame on you."
Baker said on Monday that he wants Massachusetts to pause taking in Syrian refugees, until he learns more about the vetting process. Friday, however, he declined to join other Republican governors in a letter to President Obama, asking for the suspension of the resettlement program for Syrian refugees.
The statement from his spokeswoman Elizabeth Guyton read:
Gov. Baker believes that Massachusetts has a role in welcoming refugees into the Commonwealth and in the wake of recent, terrible tragedies overseas is working to ensure the public’s safety and security despite the limited role state governments play in the process.
Nadia Alawa, the founder of NuDay Syria, a nonprofit that helps Syrian mothers and children who remain in the country and in camps in Turkey, says Baker deserves some credit for that.
"He didn't want to sign another piece of paper alienating the Syrian refugees, people who are escaping ISIS and bombings from the [Assad] regime," she said while standing in front of the State House.
Alawa added, however, that it is "scary when politicians give a blanket statement, without realizing the U.S. already has a very secure and safe vetting process in place."
Mohammed Najeeb, who helps resettle refugees with Ascentria Care Alliance, said earlier Friday that refugee adjudication is a long and arduous process, in which refugees' claims of persecution are vetted and cross-referenced multiple times, by both the United Nations and multiple U.S. government agencies.
Najeeb says at this point, it takes five years to even get the initial interview with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. He says it takes another two years for the U.S. to conduct its background check.
But Khury Petersen-Smith, one of the rally's organizers, remains critical of Baker and the other governors who've said they don't want to accept Syrian refugees.
He says their words remind him of the governors of southern states who, during the civil rights movement, defied racial integration orders.
"We saw that in the civil rights movement — where on a federal level we are saying we need civil rights for black people. And then state governors in the South said, 'Well, we aren't going to respect what is happening.' "
Among those who addressed the crowd were a husband and wife from Syria, who are asylees to Massachusetts.
"We didn't know this protest was taking place until yesterday," the husband said. "In addition to everything Syrians have gone through, I think something common among all of us is this deep and persistent feeling of loss of faith in humanity because of everything that has been going on. I think we both regained some of that faith seeing all of you tonight."
Rally in support of Syrian refugees taking place in front of the Statehouse. Crowd is probably ~100 @WBUR pic.twitter.com/QMljblAUQf
— qainat khan (@QNK11) November 20, 2015