This past Friday the 13th, I woke up early and immediately grabbed my phone. I know. Bleary-eyed, I began scrolling through my FB feed. The NPR headline, “The U.S. Has Accepted Only 11 Syrian Refugees This Year” grabbed my attention and woke me up immediately.I shared it and forwarded it on to a few others before I could really form a thought. It upset me, it angered me, but mostly it made me feel nauseous. It fueled my thoughts the rest of the day. That evening the US-led coalition bombed three targets related to Syria’s chemical weapons program. I have a hard time adding more violence and instability to a country when we refuse to offer sanctuary for those directly affected by the violence.
I freely admit that I have a bias FOR refugees. A bias based on experience and years and years of interaction; 14 years in the Middle East working in permanent refugee camps. I have seen first-hand the devastating effects of what leaving people in refugee status does. A person is completely vulnerable, living in limbo without basic human rights that you and I take for granted. They don’t have the right to health care, employment, or education. They don’t fall under the protection of ANY country. I have seen entire communities trapped in a never-ending cycle of obstacles, poverty, and violence.
I have also volunteered for refugee resettlement agencies in Denver. I know just how hard it is to immigrate to a completely new culture, new language, and impossibly complicated systems of transportation, healthcare, and government offices. Not only because I have helped newly arriving refugee families navigate the U.S., but because I have done it myself when I moved to Lebanon. I also know why refugees long to come to this country.
I was sitting in my doctor’s office two days after we bombed Syria. I have been dealing with vertigo -- ugh so frustrating! Anyway, I explained to the physician assistant that I needed to get this figured out as I was traveling to the Middle East for 4 months. She asked why.
<Please insert my Palestinian refugee work-life-love story here>
She looked at me and said, “That makes you a life-saver.”
Me (with a skeptical look on my face),” I’m not too sure about that.”
“I am. Do you know why?”
Me shaking my head no.
“Because I came to this country as a refugee.”
My mouth dropped open at this point.
She shared her story about the war in her home country and the decision to apply for refugee status. The process took her 5 years and it wasn’t easy. She came to this country with $30 in her pocket. She now has an education, a full-time job, a house, a husband, and stability. She has been able to build a life for herself and her children. She explained to me that’s why she fought so hard to come here -- because she knew she would have a safe, secure life.
And you know what, that’s been the same exact reason I have heard from others in the Middle East on why they want to come to the United States. Because they want the opportunity to live -- to rebuild after their lives have been destroyed by violence and war and horrors that most of us will never fully comprehend.
The Economist had an articlein February of this year stating that closing our doors to refugees doesn’t make us safer. The percentage of refugees admitted to the United States from 1975 to 2015 who attempted a terrorist attack is .00000606%. You saw the decimal right? If your argument on why we cannot allow refugees into this country has been about your personal safety, you might want to rethink it. On that note, you might want to think about why you personally don’t want refugees in our country.
There are currently 5.6 million Syrian refugees registered with UN.The refugee population I work with, Palestinians, number about 5.4 million. Between Palestinians and Syrians, there are 11 million people registered as refugees.
We let 11 in our country.
My last blog post I talked about the Walls Between Us and I promised the next post would be a follow-up to building bridges. Eleven refugees is a shameful example of a barrier, a wall that separates us from them, separates us from compassion, and from being good neighbors. The first step we must take if we want a just way forward is to be a good neighbor or, as my fellow American who took my pulse the other day called it, a life-saver.
Next up: bridge building.