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'Refugees Are Welcome Here' Signs Spread Across Brooklyn

A "Refugees Are Welcome Here" sign hangs at the Red Lantern bike shop in Ft. Greene.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

BROOKLYN — Next to an immigration help flyer and a surveillance camera warning, a drawing of a man with a young child bundled in his coat hangs in the window of the Gourmet Deli Grocery in Crown Heights, telling passersby in big block letters: “Refugees are welcome here.”

The sign has been there for months, posted by a stranger who asked the deli’s owners for permission to hang it as the refugee crisis in Europe unfolded, said co-owner Ghamdan Obayah.

It remains to support those who left their homes with “nothing in their hands," he said.

“When you see like what happened in Syria … some of them, they die in the sea,” Obayah said, showing on his phone the now-iconic image of the drowned body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi next to Arabic words reading “the end.”

“They were innocent. They wasted their life for nothing,” he said.

As presidential candidates come to New York to court voters ahead of next week’s primary — in Donald Trump's case, bringing tough talk on immigration and refugee status — the quiet pro-refugee poster campaign has spread in groceries, bike shops and bodegas all over Brooklyn.

Initially created by artist Micah Bizant for the group Jewish Voice for Peace as part of their Network Against Islamophobia project, the poster has “taken on a life of its own,” said Donna Nevel, a JVP board member and co-organizer of the anti-Islamophobia campaign.

The group canvassed with the poster in Ditmas Park, Crown Heights and in Upper Manhattan (where it caught the eye of “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda), but encouraged other groups to spread the image in their own communities, as well.

She said posters have gone up across the country, including in Oregon, North Carolina and Washington, D.C.

“[It’s] the idea of being as visible as possible, of being consistent, of really being out there at a time of virulent Islamophobia and racism,” Nevel said.

The poster’s message also got the attention of Ed Goldman and Lucy Koteen, members of Fort Greene Peace, who have printed dozens of copies of the image to bring to stores on “all the main shopping strips” in Fort Greene, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill, Goldman said.

The poster now hangs in windows all over the area, including on Fulton Street and Franklin, Dekalb and Lafayette avenues.

About five million Syrian people left their country last year, according to the International Organization for Migration. Many settled in Europe and the Middle East, but 2,192 Syrians came to the United States in 2015, according to State Department data, with 52 of them settling in New York state. So far this year, 737 Syrian refugees has been accepted nationally; 37 of them now live in New York.

“It’s a message of welcoming and hopefulness, counter to all the negative chatter out there and anti-immigrant rhetoric that’s not only in this country, but in many places in Europe,” Koteen said at Red Lantern Bicycles on DeKalb Avenue, where owners hung a “Refugees Are Welcome Here” sign upon request by Goldman.

“But, certainly, it’s ratcheted up in the election,” he added.

For Tony Rabah, owner of the Pulp & Bean coffee shop in Crown Heights, the poster hardly feels political. After someone hung it on the ATM machine inside the Franklin Avenue cafe — located opposite Ghamdan Obayah’s deli — Rabah left it up with “no issue,” he said.

“How would I feel if anybody around the world, not just the Syrian refugees, were being pushed out of their homes?” he said. “I would naturally, as a human being, be there to support people any way I could, regardless of their race or their religion or where they come from.”