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Second-annual rally in Charleston opens arms to Syrian refugees

About 250 people gathered at Haddad Riverfront Park last year and pledged they would show love and compassion for Syrian refugees. This year’s West Virginia Welcomes Refugees rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Volunteers are planning a rally for Tuesday in Charleston to send a welcoming message to Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn country.

The second-annual West Virginia Welcomes Refugees rally will be held at 5 p.m. in the mini-pavillion at Court Street and Kanawha Boulevard East.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, one of nine national refugee resettlement agencies that works with the U.S. government and local groups to place refugees, and the West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry have been working together in hopes of making Charleston a safe haven for refugees.

Last month, the ministries submitted an application to the U.S. Department of State to turn Charleston into one of its “resettlement communities” and place 100 refugees in the first year in Charleston. The State Department has not yet made a decision.

The West Virginia Interfaith Refugee Ministry aims to create greater understanding of the Muslim community and the plight of refugees, including those fleeing Syria, where millions have been displaced and hundreds of thousands have been killed.

“These are people that are escaping the same forces of evil that we are opposed to,” said Rabbi Victor Urecki, one of the organizers.

“There is a sense that America is not welcoming to the other — to the refugee, to the immigrant,” he said. “And this is our response, to say ‘We are together. We stand in solidarity and hospitality to all who come to our state. We are a city of tolerance and love.’”

Urecki noted that at one point in America’s history, America’s border was closed to the Jewish community.

“The best way I can show that I’ve learned the lesson of what it’s like to be an outsider is by embracing the outsider and the other,” he said. “We’re all ultimately immigrants and refugees, except for the Native Americans.”

The rally was in the works weeks before Donald Trump, who repeatedly proposed a Muslim ban in the United States, was announced the winner of the electoral votes in the presidential election. Urecki said the event is not a political statement, but a time for inclusion.

“This is a way for them to feel they’re not alone and perhaps for us to reach out to them and tell them they will never be alone,” he said.

Episcopal Migration Ministries, which began to assist refugees fleeing Nazis in Europe, currently has 30 resettlement communities throughout the United States, where local organizations assist the refugees with translation, finding work and health care, getting to know their communities and other services. Other cities include Fargo, North Dakota; Columbus, Ohio; and New Bern, North Carolina.

Any Syrian refugee placed in Charleston or elsewhere in the United States would undergo a more extensive level of screening than any other category of person entering the country.

Reach Erin Beck at

304-348-5163,, or follow @erinbeckwv on Twitter.