Niagara Foundation director explains the truth behind refugees camps

Itzzy Leon

A Kent State graduate who works with Syrian refugees said the refugees camps are “like concentration camps.”

“I’m sorry to put it that way but they are,” said Murat Gurer, executive director of the Niagara Foundation in Cleveland. “It’s all guarded. People are just living there. They’re not allowed to leave certain times, certain hours. But guess what happens? They leave and they don’t come back.”

Refugees leave these camps to find a better living situation for their families and themselves, said Gurer.

“They are asking for a decent living because the regime in Syria is cruel,” Gurer said.

Gurer spoke about the Syrian crisis and showed the class photos of refuges and the conditions they face.

Gurer’s Niagara Foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes peace, dialogue and diversity.

Gurer talked to a special topics class called Applied Outreach and Global Understandings in Gender and Sexuality that will be visiting Lesvos (a Greek island) during spring break. The class is taught by Molly Merryman, director of LGBTQ and Women’s Studies and director of Developing the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.

“Murat is an amazing expert,” Merryman said.

Murat talked to the class about the true meaning of being a Muslim, the word jihad and how terrorist groups have nothing to do with his religion.

Gurer explained the history behind the term “jihad.”

“Jihad has nothing to do with war (now). Jihad was war back in that time, the 7th century, the content was defending and fighting against whoever was trying to fight you,” Gurer said. “The jihad in this century, in this time, is the struggle that you have within you.”

Gurer said ISIS and the people causing terror are not doing it for religion because that is not what his religion is about.

“Those people at the top do not represent those people at the bottom,” he said.

Gurer wants people to know Muslims are peaceful, but their voices are not strong enough to get their message across.

“Our voice is not strong unfortunately, we are just a minority in this country and in other countries,” Gurer said.

One of the misunderstandings Gurer spoke about was what exactly Islam and Muslim are.

Gurer said Islam, which means “peace” and “submission,” and Muslims are the people who submit or surrender their will to their god, Allah.

Gurer spoke about the principles of faith in Islam and the five pillars of Islam.

The five pillars are things you must do in order to be true to the religion. The pillars include the declaration of faith, praying five times a day (morning, noon, afternoon, evening and at night before going to bed), purification of wealth, fasting and pilgrimage.

“The question I always get from our friends is ‘isn’t that an inconvenience?’” Gurer said. Gurer explained why the religion of Islam and why praying five times a day is not an inconvenience to Muslims.

“There’s an analogy, it says: somebody comes to you and gives you $24 or 24 (pieces of) gold and then if that person asks you for one of them back, would you give it back? A lot of people say ‘Yeah, why not? He gave me 24 (pieces of) gold or $24, if that person asks me for $1 I’ll give him $1, I’ll give him $2.’ The analogy is this: God gives you 24 hours of the day and then he’s asking for only one hour of that time,” he said.

Gurer explained Islam is a religion of peace, love, compassion and tolerance.

“We have all of these universal messages that, unfortunately, it’s not coming out as much as the other things that come out,” Gurer said.

He talked about women in Islam and the way they are actually treated as opposed to how people think they’re treated.

“The women in Islam are very highly regarded,” he said.

“The best of you are they who behave best to their wives,” Gurer said.

Gurer said if anyone wants to help they can visit the Niagara Foundation or their sister organization, Embrace Relief.

“Muslims, they’re Americans, they are part of this country,” Gurer said.

Merryman contacted Gurer to speak to her class, which is doing a major project that connects to helping the (Syrian) refugees.

“The students decided themselves that was who they wanted to help out, they could have chosen Greek organizations or Greek people but they really felt like ‘this is the major crisis of our generation and we want to do something about it,’” Merryman said.

“Last week they were talking about putting up collection sites so that people can make donations. They’re digging right now trying to find a good grassroots organization that we actually want to have our money and goods go to.”

Merryman contacted Gurer because her students wanted to learn more about the Syrian refugees and Islam.

“I think when you hear someone who has seen it firsthand it’s so much more moving,” Merryman said.

People are unwilling to help the ones who are hurt the most by our (the government’s) policies when there is so much people can help with, said Merryman.

“Just by fortunate of birth, we’re living in the same time as this horrible tragedy in Syria is occurring and we’re safe and they’re not. And their children are dying and ours aren’t,” Merryman said.  

Itzy Leon is the international reporter for The Kent Stater [email protected]