Washington Post: What’s It Really Like To Be A Syrian Refugee In America?


Justin Wm. Moyer writes in today’s Post:

“In Daraa, Syria, their home town about 70 miles south of Damascus, they huddled in a makeshift shelter as the city exploded around them. Their infant daughter, sick with a virus and smoke inhalation, had to be hospitalized. Even after horror upon horror — trigger-happy soldiers at checkpoints, barrel bombs — they tried to convince themselves that they could stay until they fled in 2013.

“The hardest thing we ever had to do was leave,” Jbawi said.

Then came purgatory: a month in a refu­gee camp followed by three years in Jordan as they waited for placement. There were background checks and interviews with U.S. officials before the relocation application was approved.

“This is your chance to make your life better,” Jamal Jbawi, Nadia’s husband, recalled being told.

Now comes Trump. Jamal Jbawi, 39, said the family has experienced no racism since their arrival. Not everything can change on Inauguration Day. Can it?

. . . .

Four years ago, Jamal Jbawi was teaching English literature to teenagers in Syria. Shakespeare was his favorite, particularly “King Lear” and “Hamlet” — the latter for its depiction of the “conflict between good and evil,” he said.

After surviving a civil war, he makes a living in quality control for Danko Arlington, a 97-year-old aluminum sand foundry. Without a car, he wakes at 4:30 a.m. and takes a 90-minute bus ride to the factory in Baltimore’s rugged Arlington neighborhood.

“Public transportation is very bad,” he said.

Jamal Jbawi inspects airplane parts for $11 per hour, working four, 10-hour shifts per week. Just getting back to work — any kind of work — after years in Jordan is a blessing.

“The factory is very kind,” he said.”


This is a great article that emphasizes some thing things about refugees that often are overlooked or distorted.

First, as I’ve said many times, “nobody wants to be a refugee.”  It just happens.  And, frankly, it could happen to any of us, at any time, particularly when we least expect it.  All of us who have the great fortune not to be refugees should be thanking our lucky stars every day!  It’s a matter of luck, not merit on our part.

Most refugees, like the Jbawis, were leading stable, productive, and often prosperous lives in their home countries.  They had to leave everything they knew and had worked so hard for behind.  Like most of us, they never expected that events beyond their control would force them to flee to a strange and new foreign land, no matter how hospitable that land might prove to be.

Second, the article confirms something that always struck me when hearing asylum cases at the Arlington Immigration Court:  the extreme amount of abuse that many refugees would accept to avoid leaving their home countries.

After graphic stories of brutal arrests, imprisonments, repeated beatings, torture, and death threats, the question often came up “why didn’t you leave sooner?”  Sometimes it was just a question of not having the opportunity to leave.  Other times, people were reluctant to leave behind, family, friends, jobs, churches, and community.

But, a surprising number of people, particularly political dissidents and religious dissenters, expressed an unusual degree of optimism that things were going to change for the better, that their party would win the elections, that the government would eventually allow them to worship, or that the government would forget about them and move on to heap abuse on another disfavored group.  This was true even when all of the objective evidence suggested that their torment would have no happy ending.

In other words, they were in denial.  Their innate desire to avoid disruptive change outweighed the objective evidence that they would be better off going sooner rather than later.

It’s hard to get people to make fundamental changes in their established living patterns.  That’s why refugees are exceptional individuals: risk takers, resourceful, courageous, ambitious, hard working, and flexible. That’s exactly the kind of person America needs to build an even greater future for all of us.