Preserving the Dignity of Syrian Refugees — Reflections from a Katrina Refugee

Photo Above: AP By: Chase Encalade

In March of 2011, in the small country of Syria, a civil war broke out. It started when fourteen school boys were arrested and tortured for painting anti-government graffiti on the walls in the city of Daraa. The citizens took to the streets to object the arrest and torture of the boys by their government. The people of Syria received an unexpected compensation for their protests. The government angrily opened fire on the protestors killing four and injuring many more. 

The next day, they opened fire once again, this time on mourners as they attended the funerals of the victims. Many of the Syrians were appalled and believed that the only way things could get better was a complete re-shifting of government. Many of the citizens began to demand an immediate resignation of their current president, Bashar al-Assad. Of course, as most dictators who refer to themselves as a president, Assad refused to step down. Complete war broke out soon after as rebel fighters and Assad supporters clashed.    

The answer is simple, you run.

It is four years after the initial conflict and the country of Syria is an all-out war zone. What does a father do when he can no longer protect his family? What does a mother do when she can no longer feed her babies? What does a brother do when he watches as his younger siblings’ lives are ended by gunfire meant to kill anyone it can touch? 

It is embedded in human nature to flee the very things that aim to hurt us. Fight or flight instincts are ingrained in each and every one of us. When we can no longer fight, we run. These mothers and fathers flee their country, leaving everything they know, for the sake of saving their families. We are all inhabitants of mother Earth and we once roamed wherever we felt. But the year is 2015 and countries have borders and they can let you in if they want to, and sadly, they can keep you out as well. Over 11 million Syrians are roaming the Middle East and Europe with nowhere to call home.    

Although the U.S. department of State has agreed to allow 10, 000 immigrants from Syria (in fulfilment of the requirements of sections 207(d)(1) and (e) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), I cannot even begin to imagine the trouble that awaits them within these borders.  I have no idea of the terrors that these men and women, young and old, have been through, but I do identify with them in one particular fashion. 

Photo: AP

As many people know, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast over 10 years ago. My refugee identify, due to Hurricane Katrina, has left a lasting impression on me. The word 'refugee' has many negative connotations; a word rooted in our American tradition of exclusion. With this word comes shame, guilt, and of course, sorrow. You’ve lost all you had, and now there are people telling you that you’re mooching off of the government. Although there was nothing that these millions of Syrians did wrong, there will always be guilt about what they could have done differently. Lastly, shame completes the whole package. You now have nothing, and are forced to rely solely on the kindness of others.

I remember being “one of them”, as we were called. One day we had everything, and the next day we were standing in a line for food stamps.

My family was displaced for two years after hurricane Katrina and lived in Baton Rouge during this time. My dad could not live with us at this time because his job back home still expected him to be there even though we had nowhere to live. Once, at the new school that I was attending, we talked about what we had eaten for dinner. This particular day I had eaten an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat) that was supplied to hurricane victims by the government.

I remember the teacher explaining to the rest of my 5th grade class that this was basically free food, and how much debt we were causing because the government had to supply food for all of us that were affected by the storm.  She told them about all the “hand-outs” you could get just for living in a place that was “bound to be destroyed.” Being looked down upon for something you have no control over is very frustrating. 

It’s amazing that a ten year old could be subject to this type of treatment within their own borders. I admire the resilience of the Syrian people. You can still find them smiling, laughing, and praying as they walk towards what they can only hope to be a better life. I firmly believe that after these hard years, peace awaits the entire Middle East. “If you don’t like someone’s story, you write your own.” These words by Chinua Achebe resound throughout my whole being.  You are never too small to change the world. If you don’t like the way the story line is going, don’t settle for it.

Change it.

Chase Encalade is a Sophomore at Christian Brothers University and a staff writer at the Galleon.

Posted by Josh Colfer at 8:43 AM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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