Refugees Face Another Crisis: Journey not over yet

Israa AlZamli and Sean McHale

With 15 refugee students attending Glenbard West, many adults and students still don’t understand the politics behind their displacement. With the lack of understanding among some of the student body, some refugee students feel like they are facing yet another challenge.

“The refugee crisis is a huge event that cannot be ignored,” says International Relations teacher Mrs. Stone. “Its effects are being felt here and the U.S. many have to start taking in more refugees.”

With 11 million Syrian refugees displaced in 2015 so far, many are looking for a new country to call home.  Last month, President Obama told his administration to approve of taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees. 

There are, however, many refugee families from many different countries in the Glen Ellyn area and 15 students of those families attend Glenbard West.

“They’re here and they wish people knew they were here,” says ELL coordinator Maggie O’Connor, who hears these stories directly from the students.

Ignorance to global tragedies not only creates an uniformed student body, but also a tough environment for refugees. Some have expressed their frustration with other students treating them simply as foreigners rather than respecting them as fellow classmates. “I think they felt very dismissed,” says Maggie O’Conner.

“[Having students be] informed about the [refugee] situation is important so [refugees] have somebody to connect with,” says Yasmeen Elagha, who herself is the daughter of refugees and just this summer traveled to aid refugees in Turkey.

Elagha was frustrated with the lack of initiative to help refugees in her community and took it upon herself to make a difference. She stresses that helping refugees does not have to be as drastic as travelling to another country; one can hold clothing and food drives as a way to take a crucial step to helping refugees.

Elagha tells the story of one Syrian boy wandering the streets of Turkey in rugged clothing and an empty stomach. After spotting the boy, she offered him a meal, and despite his embarrassment, he accepted.

“My friends wanted to take pictures [of the boy] but I told them he was human being and you shouldn’t treat him like a spectacle and in that moment he looked at me with so much hope, and in that moment I realized there’s so many things we do that affect other people in such detrimental ways, something as simple as a picture was [humiliating],” says Elagha.

This same mentality should be applied to refugees at West. Many refugee students come from some unimaginable situations and prefer not to be asked about their history as a refugee, or to be known simply as foreigners, or “the kids that don’t speak English,” says Maggie O’Connor.

Elagha is not the only one who felt the need to take initiative. Siraj Muhammad, a local father from Glendale Heights, took it upon himself to start his own organization in order to help refugees. He created the Syrian Orphan Organization in order to get his community more aware and involved in helping the crisis. “We try to get the community more involved in helping by having exciting fundraising events every year, for example the annual girls fashion show is one of our more successful events and all the money made goes towards sponsoring a Syrian orphan.”

While some are taking initiative, many remain ignorant, with only 1 out of 10 students, out of 30 asked, are aware that West currently has refugees attending. Heshaam Latifi, Glenbard West senior, states that not only was he unaware that we had student refugees at West, but he also did not know much about the global refugee crisis.  

Yet those who do know and care are having a positive effect, and they feel the need to continue. Elagha explains, “My heart is in Gaza, and that is the heart of the struggle, it’s the epitome of a refugee situation in which people are helpless and nobody knows. I use that to help the refugees, because I understand them.” This struggle will continue, and no matter what, it is time to realize that refugees deserve as much as the rest of us.