Syrian refugees may see Houston as safe haven
While I worry about what clothes I wear tomorrow, my aunt worries how to patch up the holes a bomb strike has put in her home.
While I worry about walking around campus in the evening, my cousins worry about getting shot while going to school each morning.
While I contemplate what food choices I want for lunch, my uncle worries about how to feed his children, among the thousands of people who fight for bread.
While I complain about how much college has separated me from my friends, my cousin’s friendships disintegrate as families migrate north.
This is not a dramatization of what is occurring overseas but rather motives Syrians have to migrate elsewhere.
There is no doubt that the refugee crisis is impacting Europe and surrounding countries of Syria. With the U.S. debating on the exact number of refugees they will accept, Houston will be a safe haven for some, as the city continues to lead the nation in refugee settlements.
In a previous interview with The Cougar, Director of Refugee Services at Houston Interfaith Ministries Ali Al-Sundani said from the 70,000 refugees that enter the U.S., 10,000 to 15,000 come to Texas, and 3,500 resettle in Houston.
As Houston’s diversity is not proof enough, refugees see the city as an area strong in economy and opportunity.
“The city has natural links around the world, and the Middle East and Arab world of course, through the energy, medical and business industries,” Arab Studies Program Director and assistant professor Emran El-Badawi said.
“This makes sense since the economic health and growth of both Texas and Houston have been some of the strongest in the country. This explains Texas’ population boom’ as a whole –citizens and refugees alike.”
As the second most diverse campus in the U.S., UH reflects its surrounding demographics. Among these diverse students is Hayder Ali, a half-Syrian history and pre-medicine senior.
“My family has been safe so far,” Ali said. “They live in the West coast region — a strong government area. They are the kind of people that will stay there till the end; they won’t ever move out. They are so connected to that land.”
As political turmoil continues on Syrian land and skies, for some Houstonians, an end in sight is nowhere near.
“The ones that are going to pay the ultimate price — that are going to suffer — are the people of Syria, are the everyday people,” political science assistant professor Cyrus Contractor said.
“It has resulted in this massive refugee crisis. What is it really going to take to end it?”
Contractor said that European counties deny refugees access into their county for many reasons: economic instability, health risk, the fear of others taking their jobs and fear of not knowing these migrants. He believes countries like Germany and the U.S. have the infrastructure and economic might to support this influx of migrants versus countries like Hungary.
“I think we have to think about who is coming over and what their reasons are, (but) ultimately it is a humanitarian issue, so we should accept the refugees,” Ali said. “Ordinary people in all conflicts all over the world should never be denied help because (those who can help them) are not invested in these conflict.”
“It strengthens our city and this country to have these refugees come over because they are hardworking people.”
The focus on the humanitarian efforts erupted dramatically once the iconic photo of the 3-year-old Syrian boy who’s drowned body washed upon Turkey’s shore echoed around the world. He is one of many who have travelled treacherous paths to reach their sanctuary.
“Syrian refugees have survived deadly circumstances in war, on foot and at sea,” El-Badawi said.
“When all is said and done, the Syrian civil war will redraw the political boundaries and serve as another seismic shift in the regions modern history. It will take decades for Syrians to reclaim their country.”
Since the war started in 2011, Houston has set in place several resettlement services for Syrians who find their way to America.
“By mid-2015, the U.S. had only accepted about 1,500 refugees from Syria, which pales compared to the hundreds of thousands accepted into Europe,” El-Badawi said. “The White House’s announcement to increase the number of refugees is most welcome and long overdue.”
Through all the complexities of the war and the refugee crisis, the humanitarian effort remains prevalent in Houston.
“We should recognize our common interest as common people,” Ali said. “Our nationalities that should unites us, instead of separating us. There’s enough wealth in this world to go around and we should recognize that.”