Drivers traveling past Lake Eola in downtown Orlando on Sept. 10 may have seen a sight that left them puzzled: protestors holding a poster containing the image of a dead toddler.
The child’s name was Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee found drowned on a beach in Turkey after his family attempted to flee the on-going Civil War. The caption reads: HUMANITY WASHED ASHORE. The poster represents the grim reality that thousands of Syrian migrants are currently facing in the search of a new life.
Lora Abdulhak, the organizer of the rally at Lake Eola, said she has always felt the plight of her people since moving from Syria three years ago, but felt a call to action after seeing that picture go viral.
“I wanted to do something,” Abdulhak said. “I wanted to show people that people still cared, even though it’s been happening for four years, we still care. We can’t just stand by and say ‘there’s nothing we can do.’”
The crowd, about 40 people, chants “Free, free, Syria” as they form a semi-circle around a Syrian flag, banners reading “Just Peace!” and “Say No More!” and small flameless candles spelling out three letters: SOS. Two children, Omar Hayyari and his cousin Hanan Nyrabeah, stand in front of the poster with Aylan Kurdi’s picture, waving small Syrian flags. The children are not much older than Aylan.
Sue Thompson, an American UCF alumnus, stepped up to the megaphone and described what she saw as a photojournalist in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world.
“Right now, it seems pretty hopeless,” Sue tells the Syrian crowd. “When we see our children dying, we are left with no hope. That’s a sign of no humanity. Me, as an American, I’ve got to be involved in the Syrian refugee crisis. I have to. How can I sleep, or rest or eat, or have any hope of a future for my children?”
Thompson founded a non-profit organization called The Global Peace Network. They held the rally in conjunction with a group of Syrians leading a movement called Say No More. Both groups are currently trying to provide assistance to five local refugees—two in Orlando, one in Tampa, and two in South Florida.
The United Nations lists over 4 million Syrians as “Registered Refugees”. Over 50% of them are younger than eighteen. Europe is currently facing it’s largest refugee crisis since World War II due to the influx of asylum-seekers. Some have no other but to march on the side of highways in search of a new home.
Fauor, a 32-year-old Syrian man, explains “They are not fleeing to Europe because they don’t have land, or for financial purposes. They’re simply fleeing because they are refugees. They seek safety, and nothing more. We aren’t just saying, ‘say no more,’ which is part of the movement that we’re starting. We’re simply saying, ‘We don’t want anymore violence. We don’t want anymore refugees fleeing Syria.’ We want Syrians to stay in Syria, and they want to stay in safety.”
Fauor describes Syrians as peaceful people who have fallen victim to two different conflicts: The Syrian Civil War and the rise and invasion of the Islamic State. Fauor grew up in Raqqa, a Syrian city that is now under ISIS control.
“The vast majority of people there are tribal Arabs, and they lived among Christian Armenians, Kurds, Sunni Muslims, Shiites, and there were never any issues.”
Although he is in American, Fauor is forced to deal with the same reality as most of those present at the rally: most of his family is still living in ISIS-controlled Syria.
“The only thing they have left is to stay home,” Fauor says of his grandmother and his aunts. “They have nowhere else to go.”