'America Is Not The First Country To Let Syrians Down'
Noah Abraham has taught English for years. And last Saturday night in Central Phoenix, he was preparing to teach a Saturday evening class for Syrian refugees. Refugees who come from all over the country, come from all walks of life, and have different levels of literacy.
Abraham is also a refugee from Syria.
He came to Phoenix about six months ago, but it took him over three years to get approval to come to the United States. Compared with other refugees, though, he said that’s a pretty short period of time. During those three years, he worked as a translator in Turkey.
"I translated actually, I dunno how many, hundreds of article from 'The New York Times,' 'The Washington Post,' 'The Guardian,'” Those organizations are his favorites, he explained. Then, quickly added, “And 'The New Yorker,' too.”
Abraham, who was an English teacher in Syria, said he left the country for two reasons.
Abraham uses a wheelchair; he had polio at a young age. A war zone isn’t easy for anyone, let alone someone with a disability.
“In a place where there’s no water, electricity, no internet, no anything. It’s very hard to live, especially for a person in my situation,” he said.
The other reason he was compelled to leave? He was pretty vocal about his opposition to political groups, and it wasn’t safe for him.
Abraham didn’t know anything about Phoenix when he was told he was getting resettled here. But he read about the city and then, half-jokingly, explained he also saw the movie "Arizona Dream" with Johnny Depp.
He also didn’t know anyone here and had no family with him.
He shares a small room with another Syrian refugee and has gotten close to a couple other Syrian refugee families.
Apart from simply adjusting to a new country, he said one of the hardest things about living here is the mountains of paperwork it takes to get anything done.
Abraham also worries about safety. And he cares about the security of his new country, too. So he understands why people would want to tighten American borders, because he does, too. Banning terrorists from coming in,
“It’s not wrong at all, I support it 100 percent. But when you ban Muslims, it’s something different," Abraham said.
How could you possibly judge an entire group of people based just on their religion? he asked. Or their country? Abraham said he is not solely defined by his religion. And he doesn’t think Jews or Christians or anyone else is either.
But, he said, with all the disparaging things said about Syrian refugees, countries and leaders wanting to ban or expel them and how bad their lives can be in refugee camps that, “I never felt ashamed of being Syrian as I do feel right now."
Abraham’s family is scattered all over the world, some are still in Syria. And they’d have liked to come visit him. “This was possible in the past, but I guess it‘s not possible now. I mean, they can’t get visa because they are Syrian.”
He looked at me holding my microphone and laughed.
“It’s not that sad. Don’t get so much ... We are Syrian. Tragedy is part of our life. It’s not painful or sad so much anymore," Abraham said. "What we have seen and experienced is quite enough … to stop feeling these things.“
In reference to President Trump’s controversial new executive order Abraham said: “America is not the first country to let Syrians down.”
But for so many he pointed out, it’s like the end of a dream.