NEW YORK - With no end in sight to the Syrian refugee crisis, hundreds of activists and protesters gathered in New York's Union Square on Saturday, demanding the U.S. government lead by example, and accept a greater share of responsibility.
The protesters called for a humane response to a tragedy that has affected millions with no place to go.
“Humanitarian aid is what we ask for more than anything else. No-fly zones for the people,” said Abdul Nouri, a Syrian-American who participated in the protest.
Protester Leili Kashani called the U.S. government’s failure to respond more aggressively “criminal.” The United States has accepted roughly 1,500 refugees thus far.
“The United States does bear responsibility for the conflict and the belligerence in the Middle East," Kashani said, "and the least it can do is offer a safe haven to many, many more refugees than have been accepted.”
Activists and humanitarian groups, including the International Rescue Committee, have urged the United States to accept at least 65,000 refugees by 2016, a figure that has garnered support from at least one presidential hopeful, Democrat Martin O'Malley.
But the federal government is focused on a much smaller figure, 10,000.
The event’s organizers said that wasn't nearly enough.
Ella Wind, who organized the "NYC Says Welcome" rally, said 10,000 was "a tiny, tiny fraction of the people that have been displaced by the war in Syria. Eleven million at the very least are internally and externally displaced. Turkey has taken on more than a million. Lebanon, a country of 4 million, has a million Syrian refugees in it now.”
But not everyone is convinced the United States can afford to do more.
“These wonderful ideas have to be paid for," said Brooklyn resident Thomas Miles. "Who is going to pay for these children to be educated? The taxpayers. It is always on the backs of the taxpayers, the middle class.”
A U.N. official estimated that 1 million additional Syrians would be displaced by the end of 2015 if the war continues.
Syrian-American activist Hamid Imam said the diaspora community was exhausted.
“People are feeling hopeless, and it is like there is no end for this conflict, and no one seems to care about our pain and our suffering,” Imam said.
Rally organizers said they planned to build on the event’s momentum and create support systems for refugees who arrive in the United States, to ensure, among other safeguards, that they have a place to stay.