As the world continues to grapple with a monumental refugee crisis precipitated by the rise of the Islamic State, a music conductor is taking steps to show U.S. citizens the positive impact that she believes refugees have had — and continue to have — on American culture.
Lidiya Yankovskaya launched the Refugee Orchestra Project last year, an effort that uses music "to demonstrate the vitally important role that refugees from across the globe have played in [America's] culture and society."
According to the organization's website, Yankovskaya — who grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia — recently realized that many of her friends and co-workers have no idea what it's like for people to be forced to seek asylum from horrific issues that they face in their home countries.
Yankovskaya, whose family is Jewish, told Newsweek about her own personal experience growing up in Russia in the 1990s before her family fled to the U.S. and later settled down near Albany, New York.
"I remember passing by a major square in the middle of the city where fascists would fly large swastika flags and hand out pamphlets that said ‘Kill all the Jews’ on them," she said of experience in her native land. "Russia, in general, at the time was in economic and political turmoil, so there was a lot of hardship overall."
Yankovskaya said that such circumstances often lead people to blame "larger minorities" that might be present inside of a country.
She launched the Refugee Orchestra Project last year to rally singers and musicians who, like her, have come to the U.S. as refugees. Joining these individuals and their family members together, Yankovskaya stages musical performances that are aimed at showcasing the positive impact of refugees.
Following the group's first performance last month in Boston, the orchestra gathered again at First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn, New York, on June 20, offering a second concert that coincided with World Refugee Day.
According to Newsweek, the orchestra also performs pieces from refugee composers — or musical compositions that at least deal with themes related to people who have been forced to flee their nations and homes.
Consider that opera singer Lubana al-Quntar — a Syrian refugee — performed at the First Unitarian Congregational Society event, telling the Daily Mail that she now lives in Washington, D.C., after fleeing Syria not long after the civil war began five years ago.
"I had to start life from a zero point," al-Quntar explained, detailing her struggles. "It's a constant struggle, like every day, especially my heart and my mind are always with my family and my people."
Monies raised through the Boston and New York City performances will be donated to the International Rescue Committee and HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society — the group that helped Yankovskaya and her family. You can find out more about the orchestra's work here.
The numbers surrounding worldwide refugees are staggering, with a new United Nations report finding that 65.3 million people have been forcibly moved from their homes. The U.S., for one, is known to resettle about 70,000 refugees each year, taking in 6,551 Syrian refugees since the nation's civil war broke out in 2011, Newsweek reported.
The refugee crisis has become a common theme in U.S. presidential campaign rhetoric, with Republican candidate Donald Trump repeatedly warning about threats that he believes are inherent. The presidential contender even told a crowd last September that he would send Syrian refugees back if elected president.
"I'm putting the people on notice that are coming from here from Syria as part of this migration," he said during a rally at the time. "If I win, they're going back."
He has repeatedly called for restrictions on Muslim individuals and families immigrating to the U.S., expressing fears earlier this month that allowing too many people from Middle Eastern countries could be a "Trojan horse" of sorts.