Following reports of the federal government announcing its plans to increase the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States to 100,000 by 2017, the importance of volunteer coalitions for these refugees will only increase.

USA Today reported that of these refugees, organizations have asked Florida to support the relocation of 425. However, Gov. Rick Scott wants Congress to deny federal funding for that process.

“More importantly ... it is our understanding that the state does not have the authority to prevent the federal government from funding the relocation of these Syrian refugees to Florida even without state support,” Scott wrote.

On Sunday afternoon, the organization Floridians Responding to Refugees Committee held its “Orlando Says Welcome” picnic at Lake Monroe in Sanford in honor of the refugee families recently relocated to Central Florida from Middle Eastern countries.

FRRC committee member and UCF alumna Rasha Mubarak said she helped found the FRRC this year as an umbrella committee to facilitate cooperation between the varied and normally disparate groups.

“You have Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims … there’s Christians, there’s Arabs, there’s non-Arabs, there’s South Asians, all sorts of groups that, for this, are working together,” Mubarak said.

Although the families at Sunday’s picnic are among the lucky few to make it out of refugee camps and into the United States, their journey is far from over. According to USA Today, the United States has only accepted about 1,500 Syrian refugees in the last four years.

Now that they are here, the refugees have to settle into a new way of life, finding jobs and housing and easing into American culture. This process can sometimes result in even more migration, as is the case with Walid Abu Aliess and his family, who were recently relocated to Central Florida from Miami by the organization.

“The government puts [the refugees] anywhere,” said Zainab Alidina, who is involved with the FRRC’s outreach programs. “They don’t have a choice.”

Alidina and other FRRC members brought Abu Aliess, his wife Dalia and two daughters north because the family felt disconnected from their new community, an impoverished area with few Arabs or Muslims to relate to.

“Although he was provided housing and food stamps and the basic necessities, he feels in a sense that [the government] failed,” Mubarak said for Aliess who, having been in the United States just shy of three months, does not yet speak English. “But when the Arab community and the Muslim community in South Florida and Orlando worked together, he feels like he was given a better opportunity.”

While the government helps refugees through a three-month resettlement period, aid usually does not extend beyond basic necessities and refugees are left entirely without government support, making volunteer coalitions like the FRRC even more important.

Much of this support comes from local organizations such as the Islamic Center of Orlando, the United Muslim Foundation and the Islamic Center of North America Relief, among others.

Regardless of Scott’s call to oppose Syrian refugees, however, Mubarak welcomes them with open arms.

“There are so many opportunities to get involved,” Mubarak said, listing translators, English teachers and transport for the refugees as some of the important ongoing jobs needed. “Just [donating] a pretty pink crib isn’t the end of it.”


Chris Muscardin is a Contributing Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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