United Muslim Relief holds volleyball game to raise money for Syrian refugees
With her 8-year-old sister beside her, Zena Khoudeir, 21, watched several amateur teams face off in intense volleyball matches — all to raise funds for refugees of Syria, her parents’ native country.
It was because of this personal connection that Khoudeir said she drove to the College Avenue campus gym on Sunday afternoon from her home in Princeton, New Jersey, to join dozens of Rutgers students for a volleyball tournament organized by the campus chapter of the national non-profit United Muslim Relief.
“It’s amazing that there are people who do want to help us and that want to help them,” she said. “It makes me happy to see that people from other religions, cultures and races are out here to support Syrian refugees.”
Ten teams made up of students, members from various Rutgers organizations and other New Jersey residents competed in the charity competition, which lasted for five hours.
Kulsum Khan, president of the Rutgers chapter of United Muslim Relief, said all of the proceeds will be sent to their national umbrella organization, which will use them to finance humanitarian aid. This includes food, water, healthcare and housing for Syrians displaced by the ongoing war.
“They need help (the Syrians),” said Khan, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. “They have no homes anymore. They are suffering.”
Although the student group strives to help marginalized and impoverished groups in New Jersey and abroad, its members emphasized that the organization does not participate in political or religious advocacy.
Muna Mashhour, one of the group’s event coordinators and a School of Engineering junior, said the organization has Muslim origins, but its membership is not exclusively Muslim or focused solely on Muslim causes.
Mashhour said the group has also done volunteer work in Newark and New Brunswick.
Syrian refugees need assistance like the groups they have previously helped, but they are now at the forefront of worldwide humanitarian efforts because of their dire circumstances, she said.
Yet it is not up to them to dictate what policies should be implemented by governments as it pertains to refugees, she said.
“We are not telling the country what to do,” she said. “We have no political stance. We just see people in need and we want to help them.”
Khoudeir, who was born in America, said she used to visit Syria every summer before sectarian conflict broke out in 2011. She said the people who have been displaced by the violence and famine in the country are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The Southwest Asian country has been embroiled in a convoluted war — involving forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, moderate rebel groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. A number of external countries and secular groups have also become increasingly entangled in the conflict over time.
Khoudeir said her family is from the historic city of Aleppo, now infamous for the carnage and destruction it endured while it was sieged by government forces.
The prolonged war has prompted millions of Syrians to abandon their native lands for neighboring countries or to apply for asylum and refugee programs in Europe or countries like Canada and the United States.
The United Nations also estimates that around 6.3 million Syrians have found themselves internally displaced by the violence.
According to statistics from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, most Syrian refugees have resettled in the region, with nearly 5 million registered refugees in countries like Turkey and Jordan.
There are also nearly 900,000 Syrians in Europe who have filed asylum applications, with Germany, Sweden and Hungary having the most.
In North America, Canada has resettled more than 40,000 Syrian refugees and nearly 18,000 have arrived in the United States between 2015 and the first quarter of 2017, according to figures from the Migration Policy Institute.
During his first week in office, President Donald J. Trump rolled out an executive order that temporarily banned immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries and halted the nation’s refugee admissions program.
After days of nationwide demonstrations, an injunction was placed on the order by a federal judge in Washington and upheld by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 9.
The White House has been working on a new order that will withstand legal scrutiny. Senior advisor to the president, Stephen Miller, told Fox News that the new order will have the “same policy outcome” as the previous one.
Khoudeir said she does not understand why Muslims, like herself, or refugees fleeing war zones were targeted by Trump’s executive order or demonized by some sectors of the public, noting that her religion is one of “peace, not hate.”
“Why would you want to shut the door on people who are trying to live a safe life and provide for their family?” she said.
Although the primary reason she brought her younger sister was because she did not have a babysitter at home, Khoudeir said events like the tournament can help instill values of servitude and compassion in younger generations.
“Refugees have no way of getting other help,” she said. “We have the power to help them — they don’t need much.”
Camilo Montoya-Galvez is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Spanish and journalism and media studies. He is a staff writer for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @camiloreports.