‘Syr­i­ans are not ter­ror­ists,’ refugee tells Amer­ica

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

JER­SEY CITY: Hus­sam al-Rous­tom lost ev­ery­thing in Syria. Af­ter flee­ing the hor­rors of war, he’s work­ing 12-hour night shifts in a bak­ery, learn­ing English and watch­ing his chil­dren flour­ish in Amer­ica. Af­ter re­set­tling in Jer­sey City as a refugee, he now has a mes­sage for the coun­try that gave him a sec­ond chance.

“Syr­i­ans are not ter­ror­ists,” he told re­porters, speak­ing on the same day that the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives voted to ban Syr­ian and Iraqi refugees from en­ter­ing the United States with­out tougher screen­ing mea­sures. It was the first leg­isla­tive re­sponse to last week’s terror at­tacks in Paris over fears that one of the at­tack­ers may have en­tered Europe by pos­ing as a Syr­ian mi­grant.

Syr­ian refugees have be­come a po­lit­i­cal foot­ball in US elec­tion sea­son, with Repub­li­cans de­ter­mined to stop Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s pledge to re­set­tle 10,000 in the com­ing year.

Obama has threat­ened to veto the bill and ac­cuses Repub­li­cans of “hys­te­ria.” Repub­li­cans de­fend the mea­sure as a com­mon-sense ne­ces­sity af­ter ex­trem­ists slaugh­tered 129 peo­ple in Paris. “The Syr­ian peo­ple like to work, they want to live... they yearn for a bet­ter free­dom, a bet­ter op­por­tu­nity,” Rous­tom said.

“They are the ones who are flee­ing from ter­ror­ists, they’re not go­ing to... cre­ate ter­ror­ism in an­other coun­try.”

Since Oc­to­ber 2011, Amer­ica has ad­mit­ted fewer than 2,180 Syr­ian refugees. Tur­key has taken in two mil­lion, Le­banon more than one mil­lion and Jor­dan more than 500,000. The Ros­toums were the first of just four Syr­ian fam­i­lies to be re­set­tled in Jer­sey City, a city of 262,000 where around 41 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is for­eign born.

De­press­ing At least 27 US state gov­er­nors op­pose tak­ing in fur­ther Syr­i­ans. The is­sue burst into ugly view this week when a vet­ted fam­ily of three was rerouted out of In­di­ana, and sent to Con­necti­cut. But the re­set­tle­ment pro­gram, over­seen by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, goes on.

“At this mo­ment in time, it’s busi­ness as usual,” said Mah­moud Mah­moud, di­rec­tor of the Church World Ser­vice, the lo­cal agency in charge in Jer­sey City. He is frus­trated by the fear mon­ger­ing. US refugee vet­ting is al­ready the most strin­gent in the world, tak­ing on av­er­age 12 to 24 months for var­i­ous fed­eral agen­cies to ap­prove each per­son.

Rous­tom said his fam­ily trekked four and a half hours through the desert to Jor­dan, when they re­al­ized they could no longer sur­vive. “We reached a point in Syria when we couldn’t even find food. We couldn’t find medicine for chil­dren.”

His daugh­ter was a year old at the time, and the shops ran out of her milk. “That’s when I de­cided to leave.” Speak­ing in Ara­bic through a trans­la­tor, he de­scribed Thurs­day’s vote as “up­set­ting” and “de­press­ing.” His chil­dren had never seen a park un­til com­ing to Amer­ica. In the refugee camp they had no toys. His seven-year-old son, who is autis­tic, is get­ting treat­ment and an ed­u­ca­tion that he could never have had in Syria.

At home in Homs, Rous­tom owned a su­per­mar­ket and a metal-work­ing busi­ness. Now he mea­sures out loafs of bread-a hard won pro­mo­tion. “Be­fore I left, there was a lit­tle bit of fear, fear of the un­known, fear of start­ing my life from scratch. “But once I ar­rived, I found it to be con­trary. I found the wel­come to be amaz­ing,” he said. — AFP

NEW JER­SEY: Mah­moud Mah­moud (right), Church World Ser­vice and NJ Refugee Re­set­tle­ment Cen­ter di­rec­tor, and Syr­ian refugee Hus­sam Al-Rous­tom, speak at a news con­fer­ence in Jer­sey City on Thurs­day. — AFP

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