WVU students help collect donations to send to Syrian refugees
Published: Monday, January 28, 2013
Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013 10:01
Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in a civil war between the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and opposition forces seeking to oust the five-decade-long rule of his family.
Through the conflict, more than 60,000 civilians and army forces have been killed, with hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to Jordan and Turkey for safety, according to recent UN reports.
Across the world, humanitarian aid groups have been sending supplies to refugees in the region.
A few weeks ago, a young member of the Islamic community in Morgantown asked why the community hadn’t made any donations – and the idea for a local donation drive was born.
Now, The Islamic Center of Morgantown is preparing to send more than 12,000 articles of donated clothing, toys and blankets to Syrian refugee camps.
"It was a challenge because Morgantown is such a small city, and the community is mostly college students," said Raheef Alturkmani, a teaching assistant at West Virginia University who organized the drive.
"We thought that since people are aware of what’s going on in Syria, they’ll probably participate."
What he didn’t expect was the community’s overwhelming response. The drive collected 247 50-gallon garbage bags full of clothing, toys and blankets.
"The community members contacted everybody they know, and we have donations from Charleston, Pittsburgh and Lewisburg," Alturkmani said.
The bags are filling several rooms in the ICM, where volunteers sorted and bagged donations.
The bags will be shipped to Turkey and driven across the border to refugee camps in the parts of Syria liberated by the opposition forces. It’s too dangerous to take the donations farther into the country – the Syrian army is known to arrest, torture and kill civilians and aid workers.
Hundreds of thousands of refugees have fled their homes, often leaving behind all of their belongings.
"The situation is very heartbreaking," Alturkmani said. "I’ve seen pictures. Instead of wearing shoes, they’re wearing plastic bags just to feel warm."
While Alturkmani knows the aid will help, much more is needed.
"This is the least we can do, we should do more," he said. "Whatever we send, the need is more than what we can provide. With the help of other countries, we can lessen this suffering."
President Barack Obama has condemned the killing of civilians by al-Assad’s regime, but as Alturkmani explained, the United States’ hands are tied.
"No one can expect what (al-Assad) will do if any country tried to intervene in that area," he said.
However, the US government has taken some actions to protect Syrian citizens. Visas for Syrian students and families were extended, allowing many to seek asylum in the US.
The American people also leapt to help, many making donations to the ICM.
"We were all impressed how these American people felt about this, and they tried to help," Alturkmani said. "They also asked for information should we do different events in the future."
Even with all of the ICM’s hard work, Alturkmani feels respect is due for the Syrian people.
"What we do here, we cannot compare it with the sacrifices the Syrian people are making," he said. "It doesn’t compare at all with the sacrifice of that one person who had to leave his home or to leave his city just to be safe."