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Why We Should Welcome Syrian Refugees
Hande Erkan
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I am originally from Istanbul, Turkey. Since I moved to New York five years ago, I go back there for a few weeks each summer to visit relatives. It is nice to spend time in my country and be immersed in my culture again. It also feels good to go back to a place that’s familiar.

But this summer, as soon as I walked out of the airport, I noticed a lot seemed different. Almost everyone I saw appeared to be Syrian, or from other Arab countries. They spoke foreign languages I didn’t understand.

The men wore white dresses and had long beards. They wore black or white turbans. The women were covered all in black. In rural Turkish towns, people who are religious Muslims dress like that, but Istanbul is a big city and most of the people dress the same way New Yorkers do.

Turkey has open borders, so I was used to seeing people from other countries. But usually I would see only a few of them at a time and only in specific places, like airports and tourist sites. However, this time, wherever I went, there were crowds of Syrians.

I realized these people are refugees, part of the crisis in which millions of people from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are fleeing war and terrorist groups like ISIS. Because Turkey is on the border with Syria, many refugees have come there or are passing through on their way to Europe.

I had read about the crisis, but reading about it and actually seeing it in your familiar surroundings are two different things. It seemed cool and interesting at first, but then it started to feel odd to me because there were so many more of them than Turkish people. At the same time, I know they need a place to go to leave the dangers of their countries.

But many of my relatives disagree with me. They say they are taking good jobs from Turkish people. They also think the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is only welcoming so many refugees to gain their political support. My relatives don’t like Erdoğan because they say he runs the country like a dictatorship.

Just Like Me

One day, I went shopping with my aunt. A girl we thought was Syrian because of her accent was working in my favorite clothing store.

When my aunt asked her if she was from Syria, she said yes. I was happy to be able to communicate with her in Turkish. We asked her if she liked Turkey. “It’s better than my country, but it’s very hard to fit in and it’s expensive. All of my family members are working and we live in a tiny apartment.”

image by YC-Art Dept

After I left with my bag of new clothes, I thought about her. I know how it feels to come to a strange country and be an outsider. When I first arrived in the United States, I felt lonely and disappointed that it was so difficult to learn English and fit in.

I also thought about the displaced kids who weren’t enjoying their childhoods or getting to go to school. According to the United Nations, there are more than four million refugees from Syria alone, and roughly half of them are children under the age of 18. The World Health Organization reports that more than 400,000 Syrian refugee children living in Turkey are not attending school.

Thousands of people are running away from their homeland every day to escape getting killed by Islamist extremists. Greece, Germany, Bulgaria, and other countries in Europe are also accepting refugees. According to UNICEF, Turkey now has 1.6 million Syrian refugees.

Blankets for Roofs

Although I didn’t see this firsthand I’ve seen pictures of refugees in Turkey living in camps that are not shelters, but a place with blankets used as roofs. They sit on the ground or their suitcases. I feel horrible for them because they are just trying to survive.

I feel fortunate that I have never been exposed to such violence, inhumane treatment, and living conditions. Still, there’s a lot about what the Syrians are going through in Turkey and other parts of the world that I can relate to.

They Need Our Help

When my father sent for me, my mother, and older brother to come to the U.S., I felt isolated here. I was an outsider without any friends whose parents couldn’t get jobs. I didn’t know how to speak English, so I didn’t do well in school at first. We had problems with my brother because he didn’t want to be here and exhibited aggressive behavior by staying out late, not concentrating on his schoolwork, and being rude with my mother and father. He wanted to go back to Istanbul.

Even though all these things were difficult for my family and me, what Syrians are going through is more frightening. We had friends and family here helping us and we migrated to the U.S., a country that was welcoming and helpful to us. For example, in New York City there’s so much support for international teenagers; I go to a school that offers translators and extra English classes. I don’t think Turkey offers the same kind of education to the new migrants.

Since the latest terrorist attack in Paris, many European leaders are talking about shutting their borders and not accepting any more Syrian refugees. (One of the terrorists was believed to have come from Syria posing as a refugee.) Even in the United States, 31 state governors have said they will not accept the relatively small number of refugees President Obama has pledged to admit to the United States and they have gone through careful background checks.

I believe this is wrong. Turkey has already taken millions of refugees and the United States must take more responsibility. These people need help. Anyone could be in their situation. They are running from the same terrorists we want to stop.

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(NYC-2016-01-16)

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