“In 2015, a UTD alumnus went overseas to help with the Syrian refugee crisis. Recently, he applied his experience to lead a disaster relief training for students.
The training program is the first Muslim program to partner with the Red Cross, so attendees may receive valid certifications during the training. Islamic Relief USA regional U.S. programs coordinator Abdullah Shawky graduated from UTD in 2009 and previously worked in disaster relief efforts in the United States, such as during the 2012 Lancaster tornado in Texas.
He said he hadn’t been prepared for the scale of human suffering among the refugees when he was deployed to Greece during the Syrian refugee crisis. The total refugee count, as of 2017, is around 22.5 million refugees, with 5.5 million coming from Syria, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
“Disasters here in the U.S, they’ve never occurred on the scale that was in Greece,” Shawky said. “When a disaster happens, you see all this support and money and resources, whereas working in Greece, Greece itself is a country running on little resources, even more so that we were on this small, remote island.”
He was dispatched with a group of volunteers by IRUSA in October 2015 to help refugees at the height of the crisis. They worked on the island of Lesvos — an hour plane ride from mainland Greece — and helped with language translation, as well as receiving and transferring incoming refugees from boats to buses to be taken to safe locations. He said initially, he didn’t realize the scale of the crisis until he went to Lesvos and experienced it firsthand.
“For me, it was a very emotionally taxing time that I didn’t fully process until I actually got back,” Shawky said. “There’s a lot that I remember very vividly, and I think that’s part of what happened to the volunteers. We’d never seen anything like this.”
The first day they arrived, the group saw around 300 refugees. After two weeks, he said he estimated the group seeing around 7,000 refugees come to the island per day. He said the numbers kept growing, and, throughout the month they had spent in Lesvos, they had seen and transferred nearly 30,000 refugees. ”
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