|Courtesy of WestportNow.Com|
The headline struck me. Indeed, who gets to pick their country? For most of us it is an accident of birth. I keep in touch with my old home town, Westport, Ct. through WestportNow.com. A Syrian refugee, Mohamed al Maassri, spoke to the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club about his experience of settling his family in Norwalk, Ct, fleeing the carnage in Syria. Although his tale is anecdotal, the typical rigorous background checking already in place is not. Here is a refugee who would be denied the opportunity to pursue life, liberty, and happiness in a nation that has welcomed so many fleeing their countries for political or economic reasons – all because of the accident of his birth. What kind of a callous country are we becoming? This is the face of the "new nationalism"? It is an ugly one. Mohamed al Maassri’s experience of US officials knowing “more about me than I did” is already the standard. Surely, vigorous vetting is a better solution to protecting our nation than Trump's dictum of excluding ALL refugees from specific countries.
Mohamed al Maassri today put a face to the national debate over refugees, telling the Westport Sunrise Rotary Club what it’s like to flee a war in Syria, leaving him stateless, homeless, and destitute.
“Who picks their country?” he said, explaining that it was happenstance that he got caught up in the war in his homeland and ended up in Connecticut eight months ago with his wife and two children.
Maassri’s tale was not that of a typical refugee. He owned a construction material importing exporting business in Dubai at the outset of the war in Syria. He then returned home and saw how the “Assad (government) and Iranian and Hezbolah militias” destroyed his town.
He lamented: “1,500 people were dead in the street, and I don’t know why.”
Because he was a Syrian, he said he was then blocked by Dubai immigration officials from returning to his company and was told his business had been closed. He said he lost everything.
After months of interrogation, Maassri arrived with his family in the United States. “They knew more about me than I did,” he said of the U.S. officials who vetted him.
He and his family finally settled in Norwalk, aided by the Westport Interfaith Resettlement Committee, a group of six churches and synagogues. Members found them a place to live, provided language education, and a got him a job at Whole Foods.
“My goal is to improve myself, so I can do more here,” he said. While he likes his job, he said the pay is not enough to sustain his family.
When asked what he’d like to do, he responded, “I’d like to get back into import export, but I have nothing to start it with.”
A singer, he said we would like to find “a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian, and sing about peace.”
Helen Garten, Sunrise Rotary president, said, “When you do, you’ll come back and sing for us.”