Riverside organization hosts peace walk for Syrian refugees

On Sunday morning Sept. 20, around 20 community members gathered to take part in a peace walk held by the newly formed organization, Glocally Connected, to bring awareness to the Syrian refugee crisis.

With International Peace Day taking place Sept. 21, Glocally Connected organizers Selin Yildiz Nielsen and Sherry MacKay assembled a small group of people from UCR, the city of Riverside and Catholic Charities, an organization that provides compassionate services to those in need in the local community, for an hour-long walk down University Ave.

The Syrian War flared up in March 2011 when pro-democratic protests broke out, leading to the launch into a full-scale war by July. Since the start of the war, an estimated 200,000 people have been killed and 7.6 million have been displaced within Syria. In addition, four million people have fled to different countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Germany and Britain. Commitment of war crimes such as murder, torture, rape and forced disappearances have plagued both sides, sparking concern over the disregard of humanitarian rights by the UN.

“We decided to get together in the light of new things happening with the refugees in the world,” explained Nielsen, who formerly taught teachers in Turkish refugee camps. “So we decided to raise awareness for what’s happening in the world, and promote peace.”

Prior to the emergence of Glocally Connected, MacKay worked as part of the Refugee Well-Being Project in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The focus of this project was to work with refugees and help them with the resettlement process.

“It’s not that these people choose this, it’s like these people are fleeing, and essentially for their lives. It’s not just like, ‘oh we want a better life,’ it’s like ‘we want to save our children’s lives.’ And so I think that if people, just for a second, put themselves in their shoes and imagine that it could happen to anyone. For me the big thing is supporting the refugees that live here and then obviously, increasing the number of refugees that come in the future,” MacKay elaborated.

Kristina Fernandez, a fourth-year global studies major at UCR, is currently working under MacKay and hopes to serve as a student liaison to help get UCR students involved in the project.

“There is an undeniable bureaucracy that goes behind any policy implementation but I think the issue here is urgency. We are facing the largest human displacement since World War II and people need help now,” voiced Fernandez. “We will never be able to solve the direct consequences of civilian wars in a blink of an eye but I think with the proper knowledge, awareness and solidarity, we can at least try to help alleviate. The craziest thing we can ever do is do nothing.”

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