Human rights activists, Syrian refugees to lead panel discussion on global refugee crisis

Human rights activists and Syrian refugees will be at the heart of a global refugee crisis panel discussion from 5-7 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3 at Langley United Methodist Church in Langley.

The panelists include Nada Elia, Diane Paul, Hazim Ha-Zim and Reta Zawdeh. There will be a variety of topics discussed, including the Palestinian refugee crisis, how refugees are relocated and concerns regarding security checks for refugees. There will also be information on ways the Whidbey community can help become involved in helping refugees, such as by offering up their homes as transitional housing.

The final 30 minutes will be a question-and-answer period with Syrian refugees, said Nancy Roger, a Freeland woman who started a grassroots campaign to help arriving families coming from conflict zones. Roger organized the community outreach and educational meeting.

“It will be an informative discussion on the current global refugees crisis with an emphasis on how the United States is responding and what we on Whidbey are doing and how we are trying to help,” Roger said.

Elia, a writer, political commentator and human rights activist, said she will discuss the Palestinian refugee situation, which she feels is neglected and rarely discussed despite it being the longest refugee problem in modern history.

Paul, a Coupeville resident and human rights activist, said she will talk about the refugee relocation process, as well as address concerns people may have on security checks concerning refugees.

“I’ll explain that in some detail,” Paul said. “…It’s a really long process and most of the people who make it through have experienced an unusually terrible event. It’s more than just surviving in a war zone.”

Ha-Zim came to the United States from Syria in 1996. He will be bringing along Syrian refugees who recently fled the country. Roger said there are one or two who are fluent enough to take questions, and can provide details about their experiences in Syria, as well as what it has been like for them in the United States.

In addition to becoming housing hosts for arriving families for typically one to two months, Roger and others are collecting kits of household goods to send to resettlement facilities in Seattle. More information on how to help will be available Saturday evening at the meeting.