Dear Gov. Brownback,
I am grateful to live in Kansas. I moved here in 2001 from Damascus, Syria, where I studied Arabic for three years. I came to Kansas because my sister lived here. I had no job, no friends, no community, no church, no car and no phone. I knew it was a time of transition and I trusted that with my family’s support, my education and my skills, I would find a job in good time. My transition was helped by the warm people of Kansas. I made friends, plugged into a good church and community and was amazed at all that the area has to offer.
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A few days ago I was driving home listening to the news on BBC Arabic radio. The topic was one which has resounded throughout our nation this past week — the possible repercussions of the Paris attacks on refugees, especially Syrian refugees. “Will this impact how they are treated? Will this impact which countries will offer them refuge?”
One Syrian refugee who had just arrived in Sweden made an obvious yet poignant remark, “We fled the violence and bombing in Aleppo to build a good life here in Sweden for our families. This is what we want. We do not want more violence.” How many voices echo this longing, this hope!
And yet, under your leadership Kansas is fighting to close its doors to Syrian refugees, even prohibiting state agencies from assisting in Syrian refugee resettlement.
Perhaps if you knew — if we knew — better who Syrians are, who the refugees are, as we know our friends, colleagues, classmates, then Kansas might not only open her doors to Syrians but might even realize how much she has to gain from their coming!
This past summer, my husband and I traveled to Jordan. While we were there we visited Zaatari refugee camp. We spent the day talking with a group of young Syrian professionals. “What would you like Americans to know?” we asked them.
“Syrians love life.” “We have a lot to offer — many of us were leaders in our communities.” “He was the headmaster of a school, I was an engineer, she worked as a counselor….”
When we were about to leave, one of the women came up to me, took off her silver ring and pushed it into my hand. “Remember us” she said. I tried to refuse, thinking “how can I accept this from someone who has so little!” Yet she insisted. I took off my gold earrings and tried discretely to put them in her hands. She pulled me aside and said “You can’t give me anything. I didn’t give this to you so you would. You must accept it — and remember us.”
Could we begin to see Syrians not as liabilities but as assets, with much to offer us here in Kansas?
Syrians are like us: full of hopes and dreams, desiring peace and security. They are citizens of the modern world with cellphones and Facebook accounts, full of talents and skills. They need us now. Just as when I was a stranger in Kansas, I was welcomed, found refuge, peace and a place to settle and build a good life, so too, in their darkest hour, Syrians need the refuge, peace and generosity of the people of Kansas.
We need your leadership and openness and generosity because Kansas citizens ARE generous, we ARE an open people, we DO want to help.
Nadia Schroeder lives in Roeland Park and is an Arabic lecturer at the University of Kansas. Prior to 2011 she lived in Damascus, Syria. Schroeder spent the first 18 years of her life in Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus and Jordan.