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June 21, 2017

Robbie Karp: Making the Refugee Crisis Human

By Rosalind Faulkner

An Iranian boy who walked 2000 miles alone to reach safety in Greece. A pregnant Syrian woman who boarded an escape raft just as her water broke, and delivered her child right after landing on the shore of Lesbos Island. A Yazidi man who fled from ISIS after they killed his brother, and who now works devotedly to help other refugees at his camp.

These are some of the stories Roberta Schuhalter Karp brings to light in her recent article for The Forward. Karp, a Human Rights First Board of Directors member, joined a mission with Stephen Wise Free Synagogue to visit three refugee camps in Greece because she was troubled by the refugee crisis. She hoped that the trip would amount to more than “disaster tourism” and donation of the supplies that the group had brought.

It did—and what Karp really wants now is to impart her experience to those who would never dream of taking such a journey.

“I wish that Americans taught to fear refugees could look into their eyes and hear their stories,” Karp writes. “There would be no more fear.”

The people she met welcomed her and her group into their Ramadan celebration, allowed them to play with their children, and bravely shared their unique stories of pain, resilience, and incredible hope for the future. “They were so happy that we, Jews from New York, could join them. Their effortless hospitality moved us deeply,” Karp writes.

One man told Karp that his work with the U.S. military had forced him from his home in Afghanistan. His affiliation with the United States drew dangerous attention from the Taliban. Despite backing from a U.S. officer, he has not been resettled in the United States.

While this man and thousands of others are caught in limbo in Greece, a financially stressed country with little more than relative safety to offer, the United States toys with the idea of a travel ban that would suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). As the Supreme Court deliberates over whether to accept President Trump’s appeal to consider the travel ban, the administration continues to fuel national anti-refugee sentiment.

Of anti-refugee politicians, Karp wonders, “Could they play with a Syrian child and still say, as one did in 2015, that the United States should shut out even five-year-old orphans?” Could they hold their political ground if they looked into the eyes and heard the stories of the people she met in Greece?

These people are not the “foreign terrorists” that President Trump’s travel ban claims to target. They are refugees. But first and foremost, they are humans.