Legislators, religious and community leaders rally in support of refugees
STATE HOUSE – Sen. Joshua Miller and Sen. Gayle L. Goldin were joined by community and religious leaders today in the State House rotunda for a rally to demonstrate support and compassion for refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria.
The event was planned to offer reasoned perspective on the crisis facing refugees and to offer a reminder of the American value of offering sanctuary to those fleeing suffering — and Rhode Island’s own history as a refuge for the persecuted.
“This great nation — the home of the brave — can both protect our national security and welcome refugees fleeing violence,” said Senator Miller (D-Dist. 28, Cranston, Providence. “The faces that make up our nation would be very different today if the U.S. didn’t welcome the oppressed. There aren’t many of us here today who can’t trace our family’s arrival in this nation to the quest for a better life.”
The senators called on Rhode Islanders and Americans to consider the suffering faced by those fleeing violence and to remember those throughout history, such as Holocaust victims, who died because they were unable to escape to safer countries. The United States is not threatened, but strengthened by those it welcomes, they said.
“It is an American ideal that we welcome those seeking freedom and safety, the tired, poor, huddled masses, as the famous Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty goes. The state of Rhode Island was founded as a refuge for religious freedom,” said Senator Goldin (D-Dist. 3, Providence). “And while the state does not have the authority to set refugee policy, we do have the opportunity to create an inclusive and welcoming community for the refugees who are currently in Rhode Island and those who will come in future years.”
The legislators were joined by numerous religious leaders, as well as Baha Sadr, the director of refugee resettlement and case management of Dorcas International Institute in Providence, and Omar Bah, founder of the Refugee Dream Center and a refugee who came to Rhode Island from Gambia, where he was kidnapped and tortured for his work as a journalist.
Speakers at the rally urged Rhode Islanders and all Americans to resist calls for fear and religious or racial discrimination against refugees and discussed the substantial security screening process — which takes up to two years — refugees face to ensure they are no threat to the United States.
“Dorcas International Institute relies on the State Department to provide a substantial vetting process of all potential refugees and the Syrians are no different than any other. Rhode Island was founded by those seeking to escape religious persecution. We must continue to keep our doors and our borders open to welcome those who feel they are not welcome in their home country and have passed all of the necessary security checks,” said Kathy Cloutier, executive director of Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island.
Religious leaders speaking at the event talked about the moral obligation of the faithful to assist those in need.
“Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in our world, often fleeing situations of danger and violence, seeking only to protect their families and children. Like all of us they desire only to live a normal life in safety and security. Refugees fleeing terror and persecution must not become the scapegoats of the very terror and persecution they have fled. Welcoming the homeless and the stranger is a fundamental part of our Catholic faith. Welcoming refugees is a noble American tradition that should not be abandoned in the name of fear,” said the Rev. Bernard A. Healey, director of the Rhode Island Catholic Conference.
Said Rabbi Sarah Mack, Rabbi at Temple Beth-El in Providence and president of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, “The current refugee crisis challenges us as Jews bringing with it the weight of our own past suffering. Our collective history of oppression impels us to aid those desperate souls seeking sanctuary. We are commanded to care for the stranger in the Torah and part of that injunction means raising our voices against the hatred and xenophobia that arises from fear.”
Imam Farid Ansari, president of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement, talked about misconceptions about his faith, which teaches peace and rejects violence. He stated that Muslims as a whole unequivocally reject terrorism asked for the elimination of prejudice against Muslims based on the acts of extremists acting outside its teachings.
The senators collected nonperishable Thanksgiving items for Dorcas International Institute’s and the Diocese of Providence’s refugee settlement programs, noting that the holiday provides a backdrop for reflection on how the United States has always been a nation of refugees.
Bah, the Gambian refugee, reminded attendees of that notion.
“True to the spirit of Roger Williams and the founders of this great nation, I call on the leadership of the United States to keep the American promise of compassion, freedom and hope. We refugees came to America as our last beacon of hope in our quest to both stay safe, and build new lives. Americans and the West are like the refugees — all victims of terror, oppression and threats to freedom. I am therefore thankful to America, most especially Rhode Island, for giving me the opportunity to have a new home and to contribute my quota to the state of Rhode Island,” said Bah, author of “Africa’s Hell on Earth: The Ordeal of an African Journalist.”
Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea, State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, Marty Cooper, director of community relations for Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island; and Rev. Betsy Garland, president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches also spoke at the event. Also attending in support were Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) Rep. Joseph S. Almeida (D-Dist. 12, Providence), Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), Rep. Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston) and Rep. Aaron Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence).
For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903