‘Tis the Season

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Just in time for the Holiday season, Delegates Hugo, Gilbert, Habeeb, and Loupassi of the Virginia House of Delegates are calling on Governor McAuliffe to refuse the resettlement of Syrian refugees for the next two years. Delegate Hugo said that the legislation proposed is in response to recent terrorist attacks in France, “Before we can allow further resettlement in Virginia, we must have full confidence in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its procedures. Virginia is a welcoming state, but our first priority is the safety of our citizens.”
Of course, there is no evidence that Syrian refugees are the cause of any terrorist activities, certainly none in the United States.

Just to put a little skin on this story, here’s what’s actually going on in a Syrian refugee’s life.

“As the days passed [in Yarmouk, Syria], the shelling got heavier. Stray bullets came through their bathroom wall. One morning, Hassan woke Waed and told her they had to move downstairs into his parents’ apartment, where it was safer. She got up, closed the door, and went back to bed. “If you want to go, go,” she said. “This is my house, and I’m not leaving it.” She wasn’t trying to be a martyr; she just couldn’t let it go. No matter how rational it might have been to move, it was more comforting to close her own door to the world falling apart outside.

Regime snipers had set up on the rooftops. Several of the main streets of Yarmouk were now closed off like this, and when people had to cross them, they would dash across in a zigzag pattern to make themselves difficult targets.

She walked along the sidewalk, nervous yet determined. She and Hassan needed money to eat and the snipers targeted young men, so there was no way for him to work. Besides, there was almost no food for sale in Yarmouk anymore. The checkpoint blocked flour and gas from getting in. No one was allowed to bring in more than one bag of bread.

Rather than risk the checkpoint and its snipers, or wait for the intermittent UN aid packages, many started breaking into shuttered shops and abandoned houses to find something to eat. Within weeks, the camp’s complicated social hierarchy was obliterated. One neighbor of Waed’s parents, a well-respected historian, was now looting for bags of macaroni with his wife to feed their five-year-old twins. To cook them, Ghassan Shahabi and his family pulled doors and windows from abandoned apartments and lit a fire outside.

One night, it snowed, and people went outside to make snowmen. Ghassan, his wife, Siham, and their children were bundled up in blankets by a fire in the street, a warmer spot than their freezing apartment.

Ghassan and Siham grew hungrier. One day, they decided they couldn’t take it anymore. During the morning window when the checkpoint opened, they put the twins in their car, drove into the city, and bought 25 bags of bread. The next day, on their way back in, a soldier searched the car and found their stash. Only one bag goes in, he told them, and the car has to stay out of the camp. Siham and the kids got out of the car with their one bag, then a soldier called from the other side of the checkpoint.

“Ghassan Shahabi,” he shouted. “Never mind. It’s okay. Go ahead and come in with your car.” Maybe the soldier had seen the kids and had a change of heart? Siham and the girls got in the backseat. Ghassan drove ahead. A sniper bullet pierced the window and went straight into Ghassan’s back, and then the gas tank was hit and erupted in flames. Ghassan’s lifeless foot continued to press the gas pedal. The car drove a ways down Yarmouk Street and crashed into a wall. People rushed to pull the screaming kids out of the car. They buried Ghassan immediately.”

That’s when Siham decided she could no longer stay in Yarmouk, Syria. That’s where Siham’s life as a refugee begins.

“In the days that followed, Siham and the children gathered remnants of bread where they could find them and warmed them on the fire. After eight days, she decided, “If we die, we die. It’s better to die by sniper fire than by hunger.” They paid someone to drive them to the entrance of the camp. Snipers shot along the road, and when they got out of the car, they saw a man and a boy lying dead on the street. They ran to the checkpoint and got out. Eventually they found their way to Lebanon.”

10.8 million Syrians—half the population of the country—are now in need of humanitarian assistance.

This year, Germany committed to take in 25,500 refugees. Sweden has agreed to resettle 1,200. The United States has taken a mere 156 Syrian refugees, and according to a State Department spokesman, the majority of them applied before the crisis.

Now some 26 U.S. State Governors are attempting to block Syrian refugees from coming to the United States. It’s difficult to fathom the level of callousness involved in this decision driven primarily by fear, it seems, or worse some perverse political calculation that leaves starving people to starve during one of the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

An Internet Meme regarding the Christmas season and Middle Eastern refugees (a.k.a., Mary and Joseph seeking shelter from Herod’s horrific edict) seems appropriate as a reminder of what Christianity is supposed to be about–especially for a country that takes so much pride in its ostensible Christian behavior. Or maybe, more to the point,  a famous quote by the secular Thomas Jefferson: “I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”

~by Jack Johnson

The Hunger Game

 

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