Violence around the world has forced millions of people to leave their homes. In Syria alone, more than 5 million people fled the country in six years—an estimated half of whom are children. Shadi Martini, who managed a hospital in Aleppo, escaped his country’s brutal civil war in 2012 after he, along with his colleagues, were found covertly helping injured civilians.
As we commemorated World Refugee Day, Shadi discussed his own story of leaving the country and updated us on his efforts to help Syrians trying to seek safety abroad in an atmosphere that has become increasingly hostile to Muslim refugees.
israel360 user: It seems like for refugees to get a new life, particularly in the U.S., it takes a combination of patience and luck. Can you tell us a little bit about the process that you faced?
Shadi Martini (SM): In my case it’s more luck than anything else. I’m not a typical refugee that came here. In my case I received refugee status through a lottery system and got an immigration visa. That was luck, but most of the people who come here to the U.S. come through the resettlement process that takes more than two years to be processed and to enter the country. I work with people trying to get refugee status, particularly with vulnerable groups, including families with young children, injured people, people who are disabled. I work with organizations to identify these people. It has a lot of do with luck. Only 50 percent of people who apply actually get into the interview process and start the vetting process. Only 50 percent even get to the next step.
israel360 user: We hear a lot about the vetting process, or the “extreme vetting,” as was said during the U.S. presidential campaign. How difficult is it? Do these people actually pose a danger?
SM: First of all, one thing must be made clear—in the case of Syrian refugees, there are 5 million, which is 25 percent of the U.N. estimated refugee population in the world. … The U.N. asked for 160,000 refugees to be resettled. It’s a fraction of the total number. No one is talking about resettling all of them. They don’t want to be resettled. For many, they just want to go back home. There are cases where they can’t go back home. They’re very vulnerable. Through the resettlement process, the U.S. will usually take 50 percent of UNHCR referrals. Under President Obama, this wasn’t fulfilled. In 2011-2015, less than 2,000 Syrian refugees were resettled. A big [increase in refugee resettlement] happened in 2016, when the U.S. brought 18,000-20,000 Syrian refugees in to the country. So before this current administration, Obama did the same thing. This is why we didn’t get a lot of Syrian refugees in the beginning because of the fear of infiltration by terrorists.
israel360 user: Do they pose a danger?
SM: We could be hit by lightning in the street, but the probability is very slim. Anything can happen. The likelihood of a U.S. citizen killed by a person with a refugee visa is 1 in 3.6 billion. But if you’re a U.S. citizen, the probability of being killed by another U.S. citizen is 4 in 100,000.
israel360 user: We’re hearing less about Syrian refugees and the humanitarian crisis there. Has the situation improved?
SM: People pay attention to what’s on the news. They say to me, “Things are better, right?” Then they say, “Well, we don’t hear about it.” But that doesn’t mean the conflict or its effect has gone away. That’s an issue we face. We need more coverage of the situation but I can understand also that every country has its own domestic issues, problems that need attention. At the end of the day, we are a small world. A conflict anywhere is affecting someone we know or love. It’s hard but I see a lot of people when they hear about it trying to help and do good and a lot of good things are happening. People just need to know. That’s what [my organization], the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, is doing. Explaining the conflict, telling people how they can help so they can get involved and stay involved.
israel360 user: What can the average person here do to help refugees or people still trapped in Syria?
SM: Of course a lot can be done to help Syrians. The need is huge, but I encourage people not to despair about the scope and complexity. Syrians are creative. They try to live on. But they need help, in the medical field, in education, etc. Of the 5 million refugees, a lot are working and living and don’t need anything. But a small segment is in desperate shape. They are dealing with the death of family members, young children in need, people with disabilities from war—they need our help. There are a lot of organizations working in the field to help Syrian refugees. At the Multifaith Alliance, this is what we do. We bring together 85 organizations to help the Syrian refugees. People who are helping with medicine, education, food distributions, clothing, etc. All of these things are happening now, and if someone wants to know how to help, visit our website here: http://www.multifaithalliance.org/getinvolved.
Read the entire conversation here and stay tuned for the podcast!