Ahmad Al Atrash does not like to be called a refugee. To him, a Syrian who fled a brutal civil war in his country, that word is loaded with negative connotations, and separates him from the community that has now become his home: Chicago. Six months ago, he and his family resettled there. I recently had the chance to discuss with him his thoughts on the crisis in Syria, his experiences at a refugee camp in Jordan, his journey to the United States, and his hopes for his family and children.
The family is sitting around the dinner table, the tree is about to be decorated, and the U.S. is officially entering holiday season. Sadly, for Syrian refugees around the world, this season does not bring such excitment. The winter weather presents a special challenge to displaced refugees living in surrounding countries. Frigid winds, tumultuous rain, and precipitating snow hit the refugee camps in countries such as Lebanon and Jordan, increasing the chance of illness and death.
It has been five long years since Ahmad, his sister, and their parents were all together as a family back in Damascus, Syria. Today, as uncertainty swirls about the status of Syrian refugees in the US, Ahmad is not sure when--or where--there will be another family reunion.
This much he does know: He does not plan to go back to his war-torn country any time soon. Now 33 and a cyber security expert working at a US-based company, Ahmad’s dream--the dream of all displaced people--is to find a place to settle and live a decent life.
He goes by Moe, his favorite character from The Simpsons. And it’s thanks to them--along with a hearty diet of American movies, shows, and video games--that Monzer’s English is so good people have a hard time believing he’s from Syria, a country he fled five years ago after being arrested for peacefully protesting the government and its policies.
On October 25th, ARCS members from across the country came to Washington, D.C. to meet with their representatives and advocate on issues that have the most impact on their work. They spoke the importance and need for new approaches to education for Syrians and on the challenges and barriers that bank derisking imposes on their organizations.
This May, I concluded my full academic year internship with the American Relief Coalition for Syria; serving as the Communications/Advocacy/Marketing Intern during the Fall 2016 semester, and continuing on as the Senior Communications/Advocacy Intern for Spring 2017. As a Senior at the George Washington University, I became interested in getting involved with the coalition after witnessing the collaborative and multi-layered humanitarian programs launched by Syrian American diaspora organizations within the United States.