Edward Norton Created a Fund-Raiser for Syrian Refugees After Seeing These Photos
A seven-part photo series about a Syrian family whose home was destroyed by missiles elicited thousands of comments on Facebook this week, including a heartfelt message of support from President Barack Obama himself. Now, the viral Humans of New York post has helped raise nearly half a million dollars for the refugee family ahead of their move to America.
Actor Edward Norton said he’d been moved to tears by the family’s resilience in the face of tragedy, which inspired him to launch a fund-raising effort that’s raised more than $350,000 in donations this weekend alone. On the campaign page, he applauded the unnamed Syrian scientist who shared his family’s story and urged Americans to embrace the people who have fled their homes in search of a better life.
“If we don’t welcome people like this into our communities and empower his dream of making an impact with his life, then we’re not the country we tell ourselves we are,” said Norton, who has previously helped raise money for charities including Maasai Wilderness Conservation Trust and UNICEF U.K. “Let’s reject the antihuman voices that tell us to fear refugees and show this man and his family what Americans are really made of,” he wrote on CrowdRise, a fund-raising website he cofounded in 2010.
The Syrian scientist interviewed and photographed by Humans of New York creator Brandon Stanton said he was managing a project outside the city when two government anti-personnel missiles—one of which was carrying 116 small bombs—struck the residential compound he had designed and built, killing seven members of his family and nine others.
The family escaped to Istanbul after their home was looted and ransacked, but starting a new life with no money and no job has been anything but easy for the scientist, who said he is prohibited from working without a residence permit. After spending two years in Turkey, the family has just learned it’ll be moving to Troy, Michigan, where it has presumably been accepted as refugees. The scientist said he’s battling cancer and hopes to seek medical treatment—and finally get back to work—once he settles in America.
The story of one family’s quest for survival resonated with people around the world, including President Obama, who wrote on Facebook last week that as a husband and a father, he couldn’t imagine their profound loss. “I know that the great people of Michigan will embrace you with the compassion and support you deserve,” he wrote. “Yes, you can make a difference in the world, and we’re proud that you’ll pursue your dreams here.”
Despite opposition from Republicans citing security concerns, the Obama administration last month confirmed plans to take in about 10,000 Syrian refugees next year. Since October 2014, the U.S. has welcomed more than 1,800 Syrian refugees, with a majority arriving in California, Texas, and Michigan—the state that boasts one of the largest Arab American populations in the country, according to The New York Times. In the wake of the Paris attacks last month, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has announced plans to halt the influx of Syrian refugees to the state.
It’s not the first time a Humans of New York project has elicited the support of a politician or helped raise money for a humanitarian cause. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton offered words of encouragement last summer on a photo of a gay youth who said he was worried about his future. An August photo series about Pakistani brick workers raised more than $2 million for a bonded labor nonprofit, and in January, donations of more than half a million dollars flooded in to send Brooklyn, New York, middle school student Vidal Chastanet and his class on a trip to Harvard University.