In response to Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker’s decision not to allow Syrian refugees into the state, more than 1,000 people gathered at the Massachusetts State House Friday night to express their disapproval.
Recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Baghdad and Beirut have led Baker and 25 other governors to close their states to Syrian refugees.
A large sign, draped against the wall separating the Boston Common from the State House, read, “Build Bridges, Not Bombs” and some sold T-shirts with the words “Refugees welcome.”
Nadia Alawa, founder and president of NuDay Syria, stressed to the crowd the positive effect that kindness can have on a society.
“We are here because we believe in love and humanity,” Alawa said. “Don’t you want to sleep at night and know you did your part? Find a way to help. Open your doors.”
Before the rally began, the crowd chanted, “Don’t give in to racist fear, refugees are welcome here” and “The people united will never be defeated.”
“[A]s I look out I’m seeing the conscience of Boston,” said Joseph Gerson, disarmament coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee, to the crowd. “It’s a Friday night, and here you are to say shame on Baker for what he said on Monday and never again. We say no to racism, we say no to fear, we say yes to light.”
Ibrahim Rashid, a freshman at Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences, who spoke Nov. 14 at a campus vigil for the terror victims, addressed a crowd again, emphasizing that Syrian refugees should not be linked with terrorists.
“They say that all Syrian refugees are terrorists, that by allowing Muslims into our borders we’re opening ourselves up to terrorism,” Rashid said. “Do you not realize that these terrorists are the people the refugees are fleeing?”
Rashid told the story of Ali, a Syrian refugee he heard about while attending a vigil for Syrian refugees on Sep. 19 in Copley Square.
“After three years, Ali saved enough money so that he could take a plane, a train, a bus and a boat ride just so that he could make it to Greece,” Rashid said. “Yet when Ali arrived in Turkey, do you know what happened to him? Someone stole his money. Someone stole his tickets. Yet Ali didn’t give up. Ali swam for 12 hours across the Mediterranean [Sea] just to get to Greece.”
Ali’s story, Rashid said, is representative of many refugees who are searching for a better life, yet others still choose to deny them basic rights because of their religion.
“Here is a person who would do anything for a chance to have what we have. A life free from the fear of death, a life with access to clean water, electricity and opportunities,” Rashid said. “It doesn’t matter what our faith is, what matters is that we’re all human.”
Hope Hamilton, a graduate student at BU’s School of Theology, carried a sign that read “Welcome” in both English and Arabic.
“We’re in Massachusetts,” she said, “and we’re this historically liberal and blue state. It’s just baffling to me.”
Laura Ciccone, 25, of Roxbury, said she wants those who are fearful of accepting refugees to reconsider what they are exactly fearful about.
“I’m from New York. I lived there during the [Sept. 11 attacks], so I understand the fears that people have, but compassion trumps fear and love should trump fear as well,” she said. “A lot of refugees come to this country and they do great things for the country.”
Nick LaVallee, 36, of Jamaica Plain, said the protest ensures the voices of refugee supporters will be heard.
“It’s always important to get together and talk about the issues and discuss them and make sure voices are heard,” he said. “If [the United States is] not welcoming folks, then we’re going to continue down the path of being a destructive rather constructive force in the world.”