In Bid To Welcome Refugees, Campaign Hopes To Make 'Every Campus A Refuge'
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Professor Diya Abdo had an idea a couple months ago. What if each college campus in the U.S. helped resettle a refugee family from the civil war in Syria? She named the program Every Campus A Refuge. Then the Paris attacks happened, and the governor of her state, North Carolina, joined other governors asking to block the arrival of Syrian refugees. This week, the Obama administration reminded states they don't have the legal authority to stop refugees from coming. And so Diya Abdo's campaign continues. She joins us now from her office at Guilford College. Welcome to the show.
DIYA ABDO: Thank you, Ari. It's great to be here with you.
SHAPIRO: What made you initially think that college campuses could and should be part of the refugee resettlement process?
ABDO: Well, initially, I had been desperate about trying to be involved in some way in alleviating the refugee crisis, doing something material more than simply educating my students about it, donating or volunteering. And so when the pope called on every parish in Europe to host a refugee family, I began thinking deeply about that call for cities to become a place of refuge. And then I remembered that the word for a university campus in Arabic is haram (ph) which means literally a sanctuary or a refuge, a sanctified place where people are safe. And so I thought well, a campus is very much like a city. We have facilities for housing. We have medical facilities. We have hundreds of human beings with various skills. We have cafeterias. So why not, why not take on the Pope's call and become a refuge?
SHAPIRO: And you're not talking about housing people for years. You're looking specifically at a 90-day resettlement period, is that right?
ABDO: Yes, that's exactly right. When refugees come in, they go through a reception and placement period. And this is what the resettlement agency does. It finds them appropriate housing. It furnishes their apartment. Most landlords don't want to take a risk on refugees who are coming in, especially because they don't have enough finances, they're unemployed. And so they're usually having to negotiate with landlords who are not always very hospitable. And when refugees come in, they're only given a one-time stipend - each refugee. And that stipend they're supposed to use to pay rent, to pay for food, for transportation. But if a campus houses them for those 90 days, after which they're supposed to become self-sufficient, then they don't have to use that stipend and they don't have to worry about all the things they need to worry about. What they can do in those 90 days is focus on adjusting culturally, emotionally, psychologically. And so a campus can help financially in those 90 days so that a family can get on its feet much quicker then it would otherwise.
SHAPIRO: Your college, Guilford, signed onto this pretty quickly. I understand they were pretty enthusiastic. But even before the Paris attacks, you did hear some pushback. Tell me about that.
ABDO: Well, folks were, as you can expect, pretty nervous. I did get an email that said Diya, we're so on board with what you're doing. Just make sure that they're not ISIS. And of course, the U.S. government takes care of that. The vetting process is exhaustive. It takes anywhere between 18 to 24 months. There are multiple steps, so folks don't have to worry about that.
SHAPIRO: And what has happened in the last couple of weeks, since the attacks in Paris?
ABDO: Folks' fear has escalated. As you said in your introduction, Gov. McCrory has stated that he is not welcome refugees into North Carolina. Rep. Blust directly asked Guilford College to rescind its offer to house a refugee family. But we stand firm by our offer. And in fact, we feel that this is an excellent opportunity for institutions of higher learning to intervene in the discourse around the refugees. If campuses around the U.S. say no, we will take in the refugees, then that radically provides a positive welcome. It provides a welcome for the refugees that the governors of the states are not providing.
SHAPIRO: How soon do you expect Guilford could welcome a refugee family from Syria?
ABDO: Well, when we talked to the refugee resettlement agency with which we're working, they said they're hoping to get Syrian refugees in early 2016. So we are hoping that our refugee family joins us early next year.
SHAPIRO: That's Diya Abdo, chair of the department of English and creative writing at Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. Thanks for talking with us.
ABDO: Thank you, Ari. Thank you.
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