American Muslims help tackle 'historic' flooding in Louisiana

Islamic Relief USA said for the first time in five years some people had rejected their help

Andrew Buncombe
New York
Wednesday 23 March 2016 17:09
The federal government has declared a state of disaster in parts of Louisiana
The federal government has declared a state of disaster in parts of Louisiana

American Muslims are joining the effort to tackle “historical” flooding in Louisiana - a crisis that has rocked the state and forced at least 20,000 people to leave their homes.

The charity Islamic Relief USA said it was providing 60 qualified volunteers to assist in the emergency response efforts and was coordinating with the American Red Cross. But for the first time in the five years the charity has been responding to disasters in the US, it said some people made them feel unwelcome - a development they believe could be a result of the increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric voiced by a number of senior Republican politicians.

Earlier this month, the federal government declared the situation in Louisiana to be a major disaster, a move that allowed the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide federal disaster assistance in recovery efforts.

The federal government has declared a state of disaster in parts of Louisiana

Virginia-based Islamic Relief USA said that in addition to providing the 60 volunteers, the charity was proving financial aid and was preparing to partner with other organisations, including Catholic and Southern Baptist, to try and reach as many people in need as possible.

“It is of outmost importance that we respond to a disaster of this magnitude in a rapid and effective manner, as a large number of people will be in immediate need of assistance,” said Hani Hamwi, Islamic Relief’s disaster response team manager.

“It is our duty to help our neighbours in need, and we will do everything within our capacity to make sure that aid is given to those most affected by the floods.”

Christina Tobias-Nahi told The Independent the charity chose to respond to the comments that have been made by the likes of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz - comments many have described as being anti-Muslim - by their work. Mr Cruz has called for extra policing of Muslim communities, while Mr Trump has said there should be a temporary ban on Muslim migrants entering the US.

"We respond by our actions. We are a humanitarian organisation and we are limited in the extent to which we can respond to the rhetoric. But we stay true to our beliefs and show who we are and what our religion tells us to do," she said.

The charity has worked with the American Red Cross in numerous previous disaster relief efforts across the United States. In 2014, it signed a national Memorandum of Understanding with the American Red Cross, the first formal partnership of its kind between the charity and a Muslim response organisation in the country.

The federal government has declared a state of disaster in parts of Louisiana

Since its inception in 2011, its disaster response team has deployed to two dozen major disaster situations in the United States and has trained and certified more than 2,500 responders. But Ms Tobias-Nahi said that for the first time in five years, its volunteers in Louisiana had this week faced a negative reaction from a small number of the people they were trying to help.

"In some counties we went to, we were not well received. It surprised us. People generally know we are an organisation going to help. That is what we are there to do. But there were some people who said they did not even want us there," she said.

Asked why she believed this had happened, she said: "Possibly because of the rhetoric."

Ms Tobias-Nahi said the volunteers in Louisiana had even discussed whether it might be better, or safer, if they withdrew. In the end, they decided to stay.

"We are going to stay," she said. "We hope [those people] will change the impression they have of us."

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