Hundreds of demonstrators packed the statehouse Monday chanting “refugees are welcome here.” The demonstration in support of Syrian refugees included Sterck Zaza, who emigrated from Syria to West Warwick as a child.
“I am here as a mother, a sister, a friend,” said Zaza, who was close to tears a. “I support anyone who comes to this country in peace. And that’s where these refugees are coming from. They are coming for peace. That’s all they want is peace. And they’re my brothers, and they’re my sisters.”
The demonstration for resettling Syrian refugees drowned out a press conference calling for Governor Gina Raimondo to rescind her support for Syrian resettlement. The rally was organized by the Boston-based Americans for Peace and Tolerance which some critics call a hate group.
Dr. Charles Jacobs, the founder of the group, spoke to an audience of about 10 people, most of them from outside of Rhode Island.
“We’ve looked at the studies of the curriculum of Syrian schools,” said Jacobs. “They teach people that Jews are the sons of monkeys and pigs, that you ought to have a jihad ideology. So there’s no way to vet this.”
Jacobs’ speech was met by the chanting of the demonstrators organized by the United Council of Churches and students from Brown University. Demonstrator Mary Pendergast, a nun from the Sisters of Mercy North East division in Cumberland, said she supports calls to welcome Syrian refugees to the United States.
“There is one web of life, and everyone and everything belongs,” said Pendergrast. “So we cannot keep anyone out of the United States.”
Rhode Island has already accepted at least one family since the Governor’s announcement the state would take in Syrian refugees, which came several months ago. Immigrant advocacy groups said they expect more Syrian families to arrive in the coming weeks and months.