Welcome march

By Mark Baker | University of Oregon | |

They held signs, introduced themselves to the person standing next to them, and chanted “Free, free, the refugees!” as they marched along East 13th Avenue on the University of Oregon campus Monday afternoon.

“We cannot let fear and xenophobia cloud our judgment,” UO senior Elizabeth Vargas said into a bullhorn on the northernmost patch of the Memorial Quad during a rally, attended by about 100 people, in support of Syrian refugees.

“We know that’s not who we are.”

Recent polls show that a slight majority of Americans oppose the United States adding to the modest number of Syrian refugees who have been admitted into the country since the civil war in Syria began in 2011. Americans’ opposition has grown since the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 on Nov. 13.

And the U.S. House of Representatives recently voted 289-137 — including “yes” votes by Oregon Reps. Kurt Schrader, a Democrat, and Greg Walden, a Republican — to drastically tighten screening of Syrian refugees. The White House has said President Obama would veto the bill if the Senate votes in favor of it.

Those who showed up for Monday’s rally seemed to agree with Obama’s position.

“I think it’s really easy to accept narratives about these people, who these people are, without really realizing the gravity of the situation under which they live,” UO senior Cholena Wright told the crowd.

“The more and more I find out about who these people are, and what they are going through, what they’ve gone through to even get to the refugee process to get into America, is devastating,” Wright said.

Vargas and Wright are members of the UO chapter of Global Zero, a worldwide effort to phase out all nuclear weapons on the planet. Along with the UO Beyond War group, the Global Zero chapter sponsored Monday’s rally.

Students and others held signs that read “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark” and “Ignorance and fear should not shape policies” and “Treating refugees as the problem IS the problem.”

One little boy held a sign that said “Refugees should be allowed to live in Oregon.”

Gov. Kate Brown said last month that Oregon would continue to accept Syrian refugees but also that the state would “continue to abide by federal laws regarding resettlement. Oregon does not have a direct role or act independently of the federal government.”

More than 4 million Syrian refugees — about half of them in neighboring Turkey — have been accepted in other nations, according to various news reports.

The United States has taken 2,296 of those refugees, according to the latest U.S. State Department numbers, about 2,000 of them in the past year.

Six of those Syrian refugees are living in Oregon, including Ali Turki Ali, a Lane Community College student who was profiled in Sunday’s Register-Guard. Ali appears to be the only Syrian refugee in Lane County. He was out of town and unavailable to attend the rally.

Obama said in September that the United States would accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. But only 423 Syrian refugees have been admitted since then, according to the State Department.

Vargas and Wright asked people to sign a petition to increase the number of refugees accepted in the United States to 65,000 a year.

Clara Schneid, a UO junior majoring in international studies, and Andreas Golden, a senior also majoring in international studies, stood during the rally holding a U.S. flag with a peace sign on it.

“I came out to protest some of the other states,” Golden said, mentioning Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott joined about half the nation’s governors in saying their states will not accept Syrian refugees.

Golden said Texas is also where the state’s agriculture commissioner, Sid Miller, compared Syrian refugees to rattlesnakes in a Facebook post a couple of weeks ago.

“I think it’s pretty sad that the rhetoric is that dehumanizing,” Golden said.

Alexandra Geddes, a geology instructor at LCC, showed up late for the rally, jumping into the march with a sign that read, “My grandmother was a refugee.”

Her Grandmother Lluba fled Poland during World War II with her husband, a university professor, to Thailand, Geddes said. He was captured by the Japanese and she fled to India, where she lived out the rest of her days, her husband eventually joining her.

Asked why she was at the rally, Geddes said: “Because I just oppose all forms of racism.”

Geddes said she is opposed to the United States making it more difficult for Syrian refugees to come to America.

“It’s got nothing to do with them,” Geddes said. “They’re fleeing supposedly the same thing we’re fighting (there). It’s just crazy. It makes no sense at all.”

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkBakerRG . Email mark.baker@registerguard.com .