The Ongoing Syrian Refugee Crisis

by Joseph McKeown

With more than half of the nation’s governors opposing the resettlement of Syrians in their states, and the House of Representatives passing legislation that would increase security checks and make it even more difficult for refugees from Syria and Iraq to enter the US, there is a wave of anti-refugee and anti-immigrant fervor sweeping parts of the country. Presidential candidates and elected officials have even suggested closing mosques, detaining Syrian refugees already in the country, and creating a government registry for Muslims. Airline passengers with Middle Eastern and “Muslim” sounding-names have experienced an increase in racial profiling after the Paris attacks, and Syrians already in the US are fearing a backlash.

With all this fear and negativity, comedian John Olivier has taken on the critics of refugee resettlement with great intelligence and verve by explaining the extensive security screening process for refugees and also importantly by sharing the story of one Syrian migrant girl. In this vein, here are a few more stories of Syrian refugees.

Radwan and Sanaa

In late 2011, as the government of President Bashar al-Assad cracked down on the rebellious city of Homs, Syria, Radwan Mughrbel and his wife Sanaa Hammadeh decided to leave their country. The war, the bombings, snipers and random violence had forced many residents indoors, and Sanaa was afraid to leave their home to shop for fresh food. The family resorted to eating moldy bread on some days, and they were especially afraid their sons, Soubei and Ahmad, who were then in their early teens, would be kidnapped. “The government would see kids on the street and take them, beat them,” she says in the New York Times. We didn’t want them to kidnap our children.”

They left Syria in November 2011, with only a single change of clothes, and spent years in Jordan trying to obtain refugee status. When the United Nations refugee agency asked where they wanted to resettle, the answer to them was clear. “America,” Radwan says. “They brought us here, and I feel safe, like nothing bad can happen to us. Now we have a beautiful life.” He became upset at the suggestion that refugees like him could be a threat. “We didn’t cross illegally,” he says. “We went through hell to get here.”

On their first morning in their new Michigan apartment, they admired the lawns and trees. “We didn’t walk around because we were afraid we would get lost,” Radwan says. “When I saw all the grass,” Sanaa adds. “I felt that I was reborn.”

Fayez and Shaza

Fayez and his wife Shaza fled from Daraa, Syria to Jordan in 2013, where they applied for refugee status in the US. After the two-year application process, they moved near Dallas this past February and are now raising two daughters—an infant and a toddler.

"I am happy because I live [in] America," Fayez, who works at Walmart, told CBS News. While the couple was concerned about their own safety after protesters at a mosque in Dallas, Fayez said in his opinion “it's impossible that any terrorist can come to America through a refugee program, which requires a six- or seven-month-long background check.”

Nidal Alhayak

Nidal Alhayak fled Syria with his wife in 2012, where he’d been tortured and imprisoned by the Assad regime, and crossed over the border to Jordan where he applied for asylum to the US. He explains the refugee application process to NPR: "There are six different interviews with the Homeland Security committee where they asked us the same questions just to check for consistency in the story…So, it would be impossible for me to make up a story or lie about it because they would vet us out and make sure everything was right."

After more than two years of the application process, he got a phone call telling him that he and his wife would be resettled in the United States. "Before I got the phone call, I was the kind of person who had given up on life. But then this phone call was like a breath of fresh air that blew life back into me," he says. "First of all, I consider myself fortunate that I made it to the United States," he says. "I consider it the number one country for democracy and freedom for humanity, worldwide." 

Nidal, who now works at a factory in Michigan and is still learning English, says he understands how some might be concerned about ISIS infiltrating the refugee program. "I totally understand their fear," he says. "I want to assure them we're not like that. We went through a lot. We went through terror ourselves. And there's no way in the world we'd do such a horrible act."

These are just a few stories out of the millions of Syrian refugees, and there are many more sharing heartbreaking tales of their escape from their country’s brutal civil war. Despite the anti-refugee sentiment popular among many political leaders, not everyone in the US wants to turn Syrians away. Aid groups are continuing to assist in resettling refugees, and doumentary filmmaker Michael Moore says they can live at his house.