UNO panel speaks on Syrian refugee crisis



By Joe Willard

According to the United Nations Refugee Agency, every day 42,500 people are compelled to leave their friends and family behind due to religious persecution and genocide. Fifty-one percent of those refugees are children younger than 18 years old.

The U.S. State Department reported that next year it will admit 85,000 refugees, including approximately 10,000 Syrians.

Rula Jabbour is Syrian. She is also a doctoral candidate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring in International Relations with a focus on Middle Eastern studies. Her mother and father are refugees.

In July of 2012, Jabbour’s father received a phone call.

“They will come to your home tonight and kill you,” the caller said. “’They’” was ISIS (Daesh). Jabbour and her family are Catholics. Because they were unwilling to convert, Daesh was determined to execute her father. They still are. Today, her father feels guilt for leaving his family behind, but if he returns home he will almost surely be killed.”

Jabbour was one of five people to speak on a UNO panel last week at the CPACS Collaborating Commons. Refugees are Us: Faces of the Global Crisis in Nebraska, was an interactive discussion about the global refugee crisis. The roundtable discussion was the first of many, part of the Frances and Sam Fried Holocaust and Genocide Initiative.

According to Lana Obradovic, assistant professor of political science at UNO, the event was set up two months ago.

“It was planned to show that people are already here… so that people will hear refugees’ stories,” Obradovic said.

Obradovic, herself, is a refugee from Bosnia. She was also a member of the panel.

According to Jabbour and Obradovic, another focus of the forum was to talk about what Nebraskans can do to help refugees. The one thing refugees need the most is people who care about them.

“We needed friendships,” Obradovic said.

Jabbour said people are able to sponsor refugee families. They can also teach refugees English, or even explain things as simple as how to shop or to get health insurance.

While the purpose was to showcase refugees and their needs, comments earlier that day by Gov. Pete Ricketts cast a shadow over the event. As of last Wednesday, there were 31 governors opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, states do not have the power to reject refugees for three reasons. First, as recently as the Refugee Act of 1980, it’s been made clear that the federal government has “ultimate authority to handle refugees protected within our borders.” Second, for more than 100 years, the Supreme Court has maintained that once people are admitted into the United States, they can live wherever they want to. Third, under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, states are not able to discriminate based on race, religion, or national origin.

“I think the governor should apologize for his statement,” Jabbour said. “You cannot generalize terrorism or ISIS to a whole population.”

To sponsor a refugee family or volunteer assisting refugees in Omaha, contact Lacey Studnicka at Lutheran Family Services Nebraska. Information: 402-536-3500 or