About 500 protesters, chanting slogans and carrying signs in the shadow of the State House, gathered Friday night to speak out against Governor Charlie Baker’s efforts to reconsider the resettlement of Syrian refugees in Massachusetts.
“Don’t give into racist fear! Refugees are welcomed here!” shouted the passionate crowd members, who rallied at about 6 p.m. Protesters also held up signs with messages like “Compassion, Not fear” and “Let the Refugees Feel Our Love.”
Speakers from over 20 immigrant and refugee organizations took to the microphone on the steps across from the State House during the more-than-90-minute demonstration. Some were refugees, some their supporters, but they were near unanimous in calling for compassion from political leaders.
“We are horrified by the rhetoric that has come out from all the politicians, from Charlie Baker to the 31 governors,” Sofia Arias, 27, told the crowd. Arias served as master of ceremonies for the protest and is a member of the International Socialist Organization, the group that organized the event’s Facebook page.
Khury Petersen-Smith, 33, a graduate student at Clarke University and also an organization member, compared the treatment of Syrian refugees today to that of Jewish refugees fleeing Europe in the 1930s.
“The question shouldn’t be how many people there are,” the Dorchester resident said. “[The response] should be let them in.”
Earlier this week, Baker joined more than half of the nation’s governors in calling for a halt to Syrian refugees, fearing that federal security measures were inadequate to keep terrorists out of the United States.
But on Friday, Baker would not join 27 Republican governors who sent a letter asking President Obama to suspend the government’s Syrian refugee resettlement effort, State House News Service reported.
Baker’s office could not be reached for comment.
One of the speakers at Friday’s rally, Edina Skaljic, 30, a refugee from Bosnia, shared her story of coming to the United States in December 2000. She arrived after spending two years in a refugee camp in her home country.
“All I ask is that [Baker] gives [consideration] to the process of resettlement, that he sits down and reads” the details of resettlement regulations, she said later in an interview.
Skaljic believes Baker is “an intelligent man” and she understands his concerns for security, but she does not agree with the “collective punishment” of Syrian refugees.
But Lynn Chen of Boston voiced support for the governor.
“The governor didn’t say anything wrong,” Chen said. “He’s just waiting for more information.” Chen, who said she is an immigrant herself, emphasized concern for national security.
“It’s very, very easy to let the fear ISIS insinuates to get to us, but that’s not why we’re here. We’re here for love and compassion,” said Nadia Alawa, who represented NuDay Syria.