When can an Airbnb rental make a commentary about the U.S. president’s anti-refugee rhetoric and actions and implore world leaders to do more to address the unprecedented crisis?
When the property is President Donald Trump’s boyhood home in Queens, New York, and Oxfam is using it to spotlight the journeys four refugees from Syria, Somalia, and Vietnam have faced.
The house, built by the president’s father in 1940, is in a neighborhood called Jamaica Estates, and is now available to anyone who has $750 to spend on a night’s accommodation.
Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s acting director for humanitarian programs and policy, said that her group rented to the home this week “to declare that all people, refugees included, have the right to a safe place to call home.”
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“I am like any other person who has come here,” Ghassan from Syria, who’s now resettled in Maryland, says from the home in an accompanying video. “Look at the person, what his life journey has been like. I direct a message to the leaders of the world. Help all the countries facing conflict. Help them establish stability.”
“There are so many parent, moms, dads, who are holding their kids across journeys,” adds Uyen from Vietnam.
Sharing her story, she explained in a statement that by “the time my brother and I arrived in the refugee camp, we had already lost our mom, younger brother, and little sister. They all passed away on the boat journey. After spending a year and a half in a refugee camp, we finally came to America and were greeted with such warmth and open arms by a diverse community in Southern California.”
“With this administration,” she continued, “it feels like new immigrants aren’t given the same warm welcome. I have never talked much about my journey, but I now feel it’s my responsibility to spread understanding of what it’s like for refugees—and hopefully open the doors for those who need our support the most.”
The action—just before Trump’s inaugural address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday—comes at a critical time, Oxfam notes. The U.S. is considering cutting the number of refugees it accepts per year to 50,000—”a disturbing abdication of our responsibility” that would leave “leaves tens of thousands of lives in peril,” according to one observer. Next month, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the administration’s controversial Muslim ban. And on the global stage, Oxfam notes, it’s been a year since the international community committed to the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, but the U.N. refugee agency says “the level of international support for refugee hosting countries still falls woefully short of requirements,” and the U.S. is failing to take a leadership role on the issue.
Oxfam displayed outside the front door a mat reading “refugees welcome,” but it’s likely not the kind of message that would have been widely displayed in the borough when Trump was a kid. The New York Times previoulsy described “the Jamaica Estates of Mr. Trump’s boyhood” as “an exclusive and nearly all-white place, resistant to outsiders, and largely impenetrable to minorities.”
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