Three-Day Policy Summit in San Diego with Leichtag Foundation

MFA presenters (left to right): Sana F. Shtasel, Senior Advisor, Dr. Georgette F. Bennett, Founder, and Shadi Martini, Senior Syria Advisor.

Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees Welcomed by Leichtag Foundation to San Diego

Joined by Philanthropy, Advocacy and Faith Leaders for a Series of Events Benefiting Syrian Refugees

Three-day policy summit showcased key learnings from the field; robust local and national discussions

(San Diego, CA – November 28, 2016) - The Leichtag Foundation hosted a three-day policy summit in San Diego, at which the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA) joined governmental, philanthropy, advocacy, civic, and faith leaders for a series of events benefiting Syrian refugees. Amidst the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation and with the election of a new president and Congress, leaders from across the nation convened to discuss the new federal landscape and next steps in assimilating and integrating Syrian refugees into our society.

Dr. Georgette Bennett, founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, Shadi Martini , Senior Syria Advisor to MFA who is also a Syrian refugee, and Sana F. Shtasel, Senior Policy Advisor to MFA, briefed community and government leaders about potential deterrents to and opportunities for Syrian refugee resettlement in this new environment; upcoming legislation that could affect U.S. refugee policy; and the role of the faith community in meeting the needs and challenges that welcoming communities like San Diego face in resettling Syrian refugees. MFA called for all participants and for United States' leadership to combat xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry; to streamline vetting procedures and admit significantly more Syrian refugees; support and improve refugee resettlement programs at home; and oppose legislation that would halt, pause, or defund the refugee resettlement program.

“Alliances like MFA harness the power of the faith-based and civil society collective to help ameliorate the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II,” said Dr. Bennett. “The basic tenets of our faiths -- to care for the stranger and take action in the face of human suffering -- command that we help, and when religions unite to speak in one voice, they are a powerful antidote to the hateful speech and misinformation that prevails today. They bring the power of the pulpit and moral authority to what has deteriorated into a harmful debate."

MFA was joined by representatives from the Leichtag Foundation, where post-election analysis and exchanges about the intersection of local and federal efforts in support of Syrian refugees was followed by the "Refugee Artists-in-Residence" art exhibition, showcasing creative ways communities can support and benefit from refugees.

“We are honored to work closely with The Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees,” said Charlene Seidle, Executive Vice President of the Leichtag Foundation. “Their knowledge and leadership has invigorated our San Diego resettlement community and its advocates.”

The Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans (PANA) gathered elected officials and their staffs, along with other stakeholders for a policy briefing conducted by MFA policy expert, Sana F, Shtasel, followed by panel discussion highlighting post-election concerns about the motivation in Washington and San Diego to improve the resettlement processes both at home and abroad. The panel featured Ramla Sahid, Executive Director, PANA, Ms. Shtasel, and David Murphy, Executive Director of the International Rescue Committee San Diego, and was moderated by Tarryn Mento, Speak City Heights Reporter, KPBS.

“We have options to either reject hateful rhetoric and stand by refugees, or become spectators, scapegoating groups of people because of what religion they practice or where they’re from, similar to when the U.S. historically turned its back on Jewish refugees and violated civil rights of Japanese Americans,” said Ms. Sahid, a first-generation Somali-American. “Those were dark times and I believe most of us support inclusiveness and a welcoming America.”

At an interfaith dinner at Temple Beth-Israel, hosted by The Anti-Defamation League, ADL Associate Regional Director, Monica Bauer, Dr. Bennett and Mr. Martini addressed the crucial role of the faith community in response to the Syrian refugee crisis and provided direct advocacy-oriented opportunities for faith leaders and their congregants to reach out -- through ADL -- to federal legislators urging support for enhanced refugee resettlement and adequate funding for the refugee assistance program. Powerful refugee art, from ADL’s partnership with the Creative Arts Network, lent poignant documentation of the crisis.

“ADL advocates for Syrian refugees, drawn from the Jewish tradition that ‘We Were Strangers, Too.’ Hosting interfaith dinners like this with the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees is one of the many ways we raise awareness about the refugee crisis and foster dialogue between people across faiths, ethnicities, and backgrounds,” said Ms. Bauer.

Etleva Bejko, Director of Refugee and Immigration Services for Jewish Family Services held a joint briefing and roundtable discussion with Dr. Bennett and Mr. Martini, sharing insights about policy reform efforts to improve both the overseas process for vetting refugees and refugee resettlement and integration at home. Direct service practitioners discussed challenges and successes in learning how to deal with the unique needs of this new population, and the ways in which working together can assist refugees upon arrival.

Ms. Bejko said: “San Diego’s refugee resettlement practitioners engaged in a productive discussion and were enthusiastic about stronger collaboration at all levels to enhance the quality of our resettlement programs and increase the impact on the refugee community we serve.”

San Diego -- home to more Syrian refugees than any U.S. city -- is an example of the power of diversity in action, and represents the very best of American values. The faith and secular communities that created this welcoming environment remain committed to accepting greater numbers of refugees. The exchanges between San Diego’s dedicated leaders and practitioners, with insight into the day-to-day challenges of Syrian refugee resettlement and assimilation, and the global experts from MFA with first-hand knowledge of the ongoing crisis abroad, and the potential for improvements to the U.S. Refugee Assistance Program, reinforced that the sharing of knowledge is essential to guiding policy reform activities. Continuing this momentum is critical to achieving future goals, and gatherings of this scale will be planned to assess impact and refine efforts as the new President and the new Congress develop refugee policy.

Photos from these events are available at:

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