Syria refugees see dream of better life crushed by Trump ban
Amman - Syrian refugee Ammar Sawan took a first hopeful step towards moving to the United States last autumn, submitting to an initial security screening.
His dream of a better life was abruptly crushed when US President Donald Trump banned Syrian refugees from the United States until further notice.
Sawan, 40, said he learned of the entry ban while watching late-night TV news with his wife in their small apartment in Amman.
“When we heard of the order, it was like a bolt of lightning and all our hopes and dreams vanished,” Sawan said.
He and other Syrian refugees bristled at the idea that they pose a potential security threat, saying they are peaceful people fleeing persecution. Some warned that the new US policy will be seen as targeting Muslims and inflame anti-American sentiment in the region.
“This decision made the United States lose its reputation in the world as the biggest economy, the biggest democracy,” said refugee Nasser Sheik, 44, who was paralysed by a stroke two years ago and lives with his family in Amman.
“We are not going out to harm people of other countries,” added his wife Madaya, 37.
Trump on January 27th suspended all refugee admissions to the United States for four months and banned the entry of Syrian refugees indefinitely pending a security review meant to ensure terrorists cannot slip through vetting. Trump also issued a 90-day ban on all entry to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Syria, with terrorism concerns.
At the time of Trump’s decision, more than 27,000 Syrian refugees from 11 Middle Eastern host countries were being considered for resettlement to the United States and were in various stages of the approval process, the International Organisation for Migration said.
During the last budget year, the United States accepted 84,995 refugees, including 12,587 from Syria.
Close to 5 million Syrians have fled their country since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad erupted in 2011 and escalated into civil war. Most of the refugees have settled in neighbouring countries, including Jordan and Lebanon, where their struggle for survival often gets tougher every day.
Savings have run out, jobs are poorly paid and refugee children learn in crowded classrooms. Many refugees would prefer to return home but that is not an option as long as the war continues. Most are eager to escape tough conditions in the host countries and resettlement to the West seems the best alternative.
Sawan fled the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh in 2012, after he was roughed up by pro-Assad militiamen and feared eventual arrest. His wife Sanaa, 35, and three sons followed him a year later, fleeing government shelling. The couple had a fourth child, a girl, last year in Jordan.
The family struggles to cover rent, utilities and school transportation for the three oldest children, especially during the winter when Sawan’s income drops.
Sawan said he worries about his children, including bullying in school. His oldest, 15-year-old Khaled, said Jordanian students sometimes pick fights with Syrian schoolmates.
Sawan said he underwent the first round of security vetting for possible resettlement to the United States in October. With a new life in America suddenly in reach, he began to dream of a decent education for his children and a stable income for the family.
“My dream, even before the war in Syria, was to live in America,” he said, as the family huddled around a gas heater in the living room.
Now he said he is disappointed in America. “We are not terrorists and we don’t support terrorism,” he said.
Refugee aid groups said Trump’s ban is hurting innocent people.
“It will not make America safer,” Jan Egeland, secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, said by phone from Oslo. “It will make America smaller and meaner.”
He said the new US policy deals a blow to international responsibility for those fleeing persecution, an idea forged after the Holocaust when Jews and others seeking safe haven were often let down.
Others said US security checks of refugees are already robust, involving biometric screening and up to three years of vetting.
The suspension of the refugee admissions allows for exceptions, including for members of minority faiths claiming persecution, such as Christians in Muslim-majority countries.
Feras Zahka, 35, a Syrian Christian who fled to Turkey, is in the final stages of vetting to go to the United States but said he fears he might not be able to go.
“I was going through security screenings before the (US) elections took place,” he said by phone from Istanbul, where he works as a hotel receptionist. “I am scared my file will be scrapped.”
Bashir al-Saadi, 67, a Christian in the town of Qamishli in northern Syria, said giving preferential treatment to Christians could raise tensions with their Muslim neighbours.
“Giving visas to Christians (only) will give the impression that the US is a Christian state and is standing against Islam,” said Saadi who has family in the United States. “This will trigger resentment, might foment religious conflict and reflect badly on us.”
Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi, who fled his hometown of Palmyra in Syria, said Trump’s decision would serve as propaganda fodder for the Islamic State (ISIS), the extremist group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.
The entry ban will encourage ISIS supporters, Homsi wrote in a series of text messages from Syria’s rebel-held province of Idlib where he found refuge.
“This decision proves the militant group’s theory that the West, led by the United States, is an enemy of Muslims,” he wrote. “It’s an unfortunate decision.” (The Associated Press)