Syrian Refugees and the International Immigration Crisis

Posted August 16th, 2017 at 8:13 pm (UTC+0)
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Written by Niala Mohammad 

Dr. Henna Qureshi recently returned from Zaatari Camp, the largest Syrian refugee camp in the world located in Jordan, where she volunteered her pediatric services with the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS). To her astonishment, she found that the majority of refugees in the camp (60%-65%) were orphaned children. The UNHCR reported that Syria is now the world’s biggest producer of both internally displaced people and refugees (refugee estimates range from 4-5 million). Neighboring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq have absorbed the majority of Syrian refugees fleeing from conflict over the past six years. But many countries including America remain reluctant to welcome Syrian refugees, further adding complexities to this international immigration crisis.

Although the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) data indicates that the majority of refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria are women and children, many fear the conflict will allow extremist individuals to migrate and spread their ideology. During his presidential campaign President Trump stated, “We have no idea who these people are, we are the worst when it comes to paperwork. This could be one of the great Trojan horses. We cannot let them into this country, period. Our country has tremendous problems. We can’t have another problem.”

This perception has created an atmosphere of fear, Dr. Qureshi stated, “[in regards to the Syrian refugees crisis] there seems to be a focus in the media on the ‘bad guys’ or the ‘terrorists’, but the people that are being most effected are the children and the single mothers that are trying to protect them.” UNICEF estimates that 2.5 million of the Syrian refugees are children, which makes up half of the refugee population.

Dr. Qureshi stated, “on a normal day, I would see anywhere from 70 to 75 children’, suffering from treatable diseases that became chronic due to lack of treatment, poor facilities, and subhuman living conditions.” She added that many of the children were suffering from psychological disorders like PTSD due to trauma from the war.

While some individuals like Dr. Henna Qureshi remain empathetic to the refugees, many remain reluctant to embrace refugees fleeing the war in Syria. A retired Veteran from Iraq & Afghanistan who asked to remain anonymous candidly stated, “They are going to grow up and bring that stuff here with them, next thing you know we have terrorists floating around America. Why aren’t Arab countries like Saudi Arabia taking them in? They are not our responsibility.” Many Americans are in agreement with this view and sentiment, in fact a study done by the PEW Center for Research suggests, 54% of American voters feel the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees from Syria into the country, while 41% say the U.S. does have such a responsibility.

Despite these opinions, the United States has accepted a fair amount of refugees, particularly from predominately Muslim countries which includes Syria. In fact, the Refugee Processing Center (RPC) interactive data indicates over 20,000 individuals from Syria have entered the United States from the onset of the conflict in 2011, with a sharp increase over the past year.

However, this pattern is likely to drastically decrease given President Trump’s proposed executive order that bans immigration from 6 (previously 7) majority Muslim countries including Syria. President Trump’s initial executive order issued in January specifically mentioned Syrian refugees, stating “the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.

While questions regarding President Trump’s immigration policy remain an issue of debate, Syrian refugees who have already taken up residence in America face a different set of questions and issues.

Raghad Bushnaq, the founder and executive manager of Mozaic, a nonprofit organization that provides support to the Syrian refugee community in the DMV area. “We have about 180 families that are only Syrian refugees. Of course we help other Afghan and Iraqi refugees but the number of Syrian refugees are big. Many of the families are widowed women with their kids…[the refugees] face psychological difficulties and a good number of them have disabilities.”

Raghad added that many of the Syrian refugees love it in America and want to remain here because of better educational opportunities for their children. However she also mentioned that “many of them are thinking seriously to go back whenever everything is peaceful in Syria again.” Raghad said that the refugees that are looking forward to returning are the ones that are having the most difficult time transitioning to life in America.

Ranaa arrived in Virginia three years ago, “I had a good life in Syria, but my family and I had to leave everything because the situation was so bad. We feared our lives.” When I asked her if she would return to Syria if the conflict resolved she stated, “I am not here on vacation, look at my life here! My husband can’t find work, we live in a rented apartment, and we have no car. And we are running out of our savings. My children are unhappy, we miss our family, our friends, and we miss our house. I think we cannot wait to return to Syria InshAllah.”

Dr. Qureshi recalled that she heard similar sentiments from her Syrian refugee patients. She stated, “People don’t realize that the refugees don’t want to be here. We think of the American Dream, but they were living the Syrian dream before… They are fleeing from a place that is at war. They are just trying to protect their family and children. I think we [as Americans] are so proud of where we come from that we forget that others are also proud of where they come from.”

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