New York Times magazine offers one of the most comprehensive stories on the Syrian refugee crisis. We are introduced to the al-Haj Alis family who, according to the Times, “are five of the 2,647 Syrian refugees who have been resettled in the United States, roughly 0.06 percent of the more than 4.5 million driven from the country since the uprising began in 2011.” The family came from Khirbet Ghazaleh, a town just 15 miles from Daraa, Syria where the revolution against President Assad first started in 2011, after his security forces arrested and tortured teenage students for writing antigovernment slogans.
The al-Haj Alis family was forced out of Syria after a family member who worked in the military defected. In retaliation, the family was forced to give up their home and flee, or risk certain death. Most of the family is safely out of Syria and five members managed to relocate to Aurora, Illinois, and though the family is getting help from the U.S. government and charitable organizations, they are having a difficult time learning English, and getting by with their low paying jobs (along with carrying much debt). Not to mention the high cost of living in America – which was a shock to the Syrians. The patriarch used to own a successful locksmith shop in Syria.
According to the Times, “although President Obama has committed to bringing at least 10,000 more Syrians to the United States by this October, that number is still a trickle compared with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s effort to resettle 25,000 in Canada; Chancellor Angela Merkel’s acceptance of nearly 93,000 in Germany last fall; and President François Hollande’s promise to bring 30,000 more Syrian refugees to France over the next two years. Why has the United States taken so few?”
The piece makes the point that much has changed in the last few months since President Obama first committed in October to allow more refugees into the U.S. — in November and December, the Paris and San Bernardino attacks occurred, and anti-Muslim and immigrant sentiment increased ten-fold in the country.
‘‘It’s extremely difficult to get into the United States as a refugee — the odds of winning the Powerball are probably better,’’ says David Miliband, head of the International Rescue Committee, which helps place refugees in American cities. He says that Syrians are subject to an extra degree of vetting which means further delays for immigration.
‘‘We’re working 36 hours a day to solve the war in Syria,’’ says Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken. ‘‘But meanwhile, what do you do about the huge immediate challenge of more than four million people displaced from their country? The two biggest drivers of onward migration are lack of access to education and lack of access to work.”