For the past several months, Syrian refugees have faced dizzying array of criticism from U.S. politicians who have proposed banning new refugees from Syria, prohibiting all Muslim immigration, deporting Syrians already in the United States, and much else. Yet despite the rhetoric and anti-refugee proposals, Syrian refugees across the United States are still defending their newly adopted country.
The descriptions are glowing. Sandy, a 26-year-old woman who fled Syria to New Jersey, calls America “heaven.” She said, “I found peace. I found a chance.” Eventually, she adds, “I want to be an American.” The celestial description fit for Noor Daghistani, a Syrian refugee living in Florida. “Here it’s like heaven,” he said. “What they’re going through over there, it’s a daily hell on Earth.”
Yassin, who fled Syria to Tennessee, says: “I love America; I love the U.S., especially Knoxville,” he said. “I’m very lucky.” When asked if they could have one message delivered to Americans, Gasem, a Syrian refugee in Sacramento, simply said, “Thank you, America, for hosting us.”
The sentiment of feeling lucky and grateful to their new country comes up repeatedly in profiles of Syrians. “We are extremely grateful to be here,” Morad and Ola Al-Teibawi, a Syrian refugee family in New Jersey, told ABC News. They say now they “can feel secure, protected,” and their five children can grow up safe and with good educations.
You can see the foreign relations benefit of admitting Syrian refugees in how they are spreading positive views of America around the world. “I didn’t know anything about Memphis,” Mahmoud Al Hazaz who fled Syria to the city told his local paper. “The people have been excellent. Their treatment of us has been very good. I’m not just saying this for your sake. When I talk to my family they ask, ‘How is the treatment of Americans,’ and I say ‘it’s wonderful.’”
Marwan Batman, a Syrian refugee in Indianapolis, is also spreading the news of American generosity worldwide. “I want to keep painting the image to all of my family and friends about the goodness of the American people,” he told the Indy Star. “I wish other refugees would be able to come and experience the same things we have experienced … to find the same happiness we have found here.”
Marwan added that “not a single Muslim” ever welcomed them the way that the Hoosiers had. Syrians in other parts of the country agree. “Arabic people didn’t welcome us,” Ahmad Al Tybawi told Louisville’s Courier-Journal. “Americans opened the door for us, and we are here.” Wasim, a Syrian refugee who is living in Houston, has the same view. “During a time when most of the world let us down, America didn’t,” he told Fusion. “Our future will be here.”
“There are a lot of great people here,” Eddin, a Syrian refugee in Kentucky, said, adding his amazement that he could attend a mosque without fear of any problems. “That’s what I love about Louisville. This city — it will treat you well.” Zid agrees with this view, but about Americans a thousand miles away in Boston. “In Massachusetts, people are wonderful,” she told a local station. “Wherever you go, you find the help that you’re looking for.”
Safera Alinas, who escaped Syria to Las Vegas, also emphasizes the friendliness of Americans. “They’re always smiling,” Safera told the Las Vegas Sun. She said that a neighbor, who cannot even speak Arabic, drives her to doctor’s appointments and job interviews. “She came out of nowhere, like an angel,” she said.
Some refugees think the strategy of using Syrian refugees to combat ISIS’s propaganda is working. Rula Jabbour, a Christian who fled Syria in 2012 before being resettled in Nebraska, said that accepting refugees was “everything this country stands for and all the things I love about this country.” She added, “When you turn your back on these refugees, you make ISIS win.”
Syrian Muslim refugees throughout the country have been condemning ISIS in public for months, and their voices are providing a counterweight to ISIS’s narrative about America hating Muslim immigrants. Winning the hearts of the Syrian people is essential to this fight, and refugee resettlement is already playing a critical role.