University students and Ann Arbor residents gathered on the Diag on Tuesday at a vigil for Syrian refugees.

The University’s Muslim Graduate Students Association and Muslim Law Students Association held the vigil to honor Syrian refugees who lost their lives and those who are still struggling to reach a safety. The flood of Syrian refugees into Europe has sparked debate in recent weeks as world leaders struggle with how to handle the influx of people fleeing unrest in their home country.

Second-year law student Omar El-Halwagi, co-president of MLSA, said he and the president of MGSA decided to hold the vigil to call attention to issues impacting Muslims globally.

“There is no greater human rights crisis right now than the Syrian refugee (crisis) and we’re all watching it unfold,” El-Halwagi said. “We’ve been watching it unfold for years. We finally felt there was enough momentum to get something done.”

El-Halwagi said he hopes students become better informed on the issue so that it will be more likely they will take action in the future.

“We have the next generation of leaders attending this school and they need to be able to be aware of what’s going on,” he said. “I also think college campuses are really ripe for activism and advocacy. By being able to put on something like this, we’re really able to engage with the student body.”

Public Health student Amaal Haimout, president of MGSA, said she was inspired to collaborate with El-Halwagi after one of her friends told her that 200 refugee families were relocating to Grand Rapids.

“Now, it’s definitely a personal issue because it’s a car ride away,” Haimout said.

Haimout said many University students are unaware of the crisis, and the vigil aimed to draw attention to the cause.

“I don’t want to generalize, but there are a lot of privileged students here,” she said. “I thought it’d be a great way to empower those who are relocating to Michigan to go out of their way to help those who need help.”

LSA senior Dana Basha and Muslim chaplain Mohammed Tayssir spoke at the event. Both are of Syrian descent and both have family members who fled the turmoil in Syria.

Basha urged students to see the situation not as a set of statistics, but as difficult circustances facing human beings.

“I refuse to make this something that’s characterized by numbers,” Basha said. “These are human beings that have been facing atrocities and torture the human mind cannot fathom.”

Medical School student Mariam Salman echoed Basha’s desire to humanize those affected by the situation in Syria.

“It is really easy to just forget that they are people with their own families and their own backgrounds and memories and loved ones,” she said. “They have lives and dreams that have been shattered.”


Correction appended: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Omar El-Halwagi’s year in law school.

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