Sergie Attar: ‘Syrians face terror of Paris attacks every day’


» G-Jun Yam/chronicle

A panel discussion on the conflict in Syria and the refugee crisis took place at The Standard Club on Dec. 8.

By metro reporter

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs hosted a discussion on Syria and the global refugee crisis on Dec. 8 at which panelists said the country’s people live under perpetual siege.

The panel discussion took place at The Standard Club, 320 S. Plymouth Court, and included panelists Lina Sergie Attar, vice president of the Chicago chapter of the Syrian American Council; Gregory Maniatis, senior advisor to Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative for Migration; Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago who specializes in international security affairs; and moderator Cameron Hudson, director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. 

“I wanted to remind everybody that for the past four-and-a-half years, every single day in Syria, Syrians face the same terror the people of Paris faced during the attack,” Sergie Attar said. “This happens every day inside Syria and that is what Syrians are fleeing—they are fleeing the bombs, they are fleeing the beheadings, they are fleeing terrorism.”

Sergie Attar’s parents are doctors from Syria, and she has been going back to the border to help refugees.

She said when she works with children, they turn off the news and focus on making the future better through education.

“All we see in the world as Syrians and Syrian Americans is a complete and utter failure of the international community,” Sergie Attar said.

She said when she first started revisiting Syria in 2012, people would ask her why no one was helping them, but they do not ask that question anymore.

“They’ve given up on the world helping them,” Sergie Attar said.

Maniatis said a refugee is someone who can prove a credible fear of persecution. If that fear can be proven, the person can seek refuge in another country and not be sent back to where they are fleeing from, he said.

Maniatis said the only issue is the way the term is interpreted. He said Europe can make the argument that refugees do not need to go further than Turkey because it is safe, and after they leave Turkey, they are considered immigrants.

Sergie Attar said there is a misconception that people think all of the refugees are living in camps. Only a fraction are living there, and the rest of the people are living in store fronts and unfinished homes, she said.

She added that this is why there has been an increase of refugees paying thousands of dollars and risking their lives to be smuggled out of Syria.

Pape cited the issue of ISIS, whose videos portray America as anti-Muslim.

“They’re painting a vision of America that hates Muslims and they quote rhetoric from America,” Pape said.

He said the portrayal of an anti-Muslim America helps them recruit and also terrifies Muslims living in America.

“[A total of] 790,000 refugees [have been] accepted into the country since 9/11. Three have been linked to terrorist plots [but] none of them were able to affect terrorist plots. It might happen, there might be connections in the future between terrorist acts here or in Europe and refugees. That is absolutely no reason to reject the other 789,997 who came in. That’s just crazy,” Maniatis said.

Sergie Attar said that it would be difficult for people to believe that the children she works with in Syria are refugees.

She spoke about a boy in the 10th grade who taught himself five coding languages and wants to be a computer engineer.

Sergie Attar added that one girl was interviewed by a man from CNN, and after speaking to her for 15–20 minutes, he said she reminded him exactly of Malala Yousafzai, the youngest person to win a Nobel peace prize.

“We hope the world will welcome them into their lives as people who have a very bright future, and can brighten all of our futures together,” Sergie Attar said.