Posts Tagged ‘Asylum’

I Know a Syrian …

I know this Palestinian from Syria. He is a dental surgeon. He is working at a gas station – the kind where the attendant sits inside a cubicle and people slip their money under the depression in the counter before they buy their gas.

The number of Syrians who have fled their country is in the millions. It is getting increasingly difficult for them to find a new place to call “home”. The news this morning tells me that 24 governors of American states have said their state will not accept any refugees from Syria.

The dental surgeon is married to a woman who was a High School English Teacher when they lived in the Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Syria. She was able to get a job as an aid in one of our local public schools.

The couple literally ran for their lives when they left Yarmouk. The handwriting was on the wall regarding the turmoil that is the result of the Assad regime. With an uncle in the US, they had a place to land. They knew that whatever they left behind they would never see again – which was not only true for their material possessions, but may well be true for loved ones as well. With their three children, they ran; and when they got to the US they had a place to land – at least for a while.

The United States has welcomed – if we can call it that – 1,900 Syrian refugees in the last four years. But if the governors of Illinois, Massachusetts and Texas – three states who have heretofore received a large number of refugees from Syria – there is no place for a Syrian to call home there. Whether or not governors have the authority to enact such a policy is debated.

The eldest of the three children had completed one year of university. While the family is seeking asylum there is little by way of assistance for them. It was a high hurdle just to get the necessary documentation for them to be able to legally work. But when that documentation came they went to work with a vengeance. That eldest child also got a job. Hoping to major in Computer Science, he got a job at a convenience store. And after a log of letter-writing, hand-wringing, pleading, he got into Champlain College on a scholarship.

Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Jeb Bush say the US should admit Christian refugees, not Muslims. Pres. Obama has responded: “We do not have religious tests for our compassion. That’s not who we are.” But is that who we are becoming?

The two girls were in their Junior Year in High School upon arriving in the US. They finished at Burlington High School. Motivated, willing to work, wanting to contribute, they got jobs. One of the girls is matriculating at UVM, hoping to get into Medical School. They other is taking classes at Community College of Vermont and plans to attend UVM full time next year.

The logic behind Sen. Cruz’s concern is the inability we have to determine who is and is not a terrorist. The New York Times describes this as “The intersection of the refugee crisis with the nation’s immigration debate.” What this means essentially is that compassion has collided with politics; and when that happens empathy takes a back seat.

“This is for our children.” That’s what the surgeon-turned-gas station attendant and teacher turned aid say. Those scholarships are coupled with some loans and the entire family works to insure that rent, utilities and loans are paid every month right on time.

Technically they are Palestinians; but they have lived for decades in Syria. So I feel like I can say: “I know this Syrian …” and I have to say that I am humbled by their work ethic, awed by their intelligence, inspired by their devotion to each other, and so very grateful that they are our neighbors. I only hope they will continue to feel welcome in our midst and know they are loved.



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