Last December a Syrian refugee family moved into a Dallas apartment. A Lake Highlands-area complex, to be more specific.
A recently broadcast episode of Vice, HBO’s Emmy-award winning documentary series, features Faezal al Sharaa and the family of six who reunited with him on their first day in Texas.
Based on the scenery, I can identify their apartment. It is one of the smaller communities located in the vicinity of Richland College. I haven’t seen the name of it published, and I think that is for the good, in light of the weapon-brandishing vocal minority who ostensibly wish them ill.
They describe to the Vice reporter life in Syria, and their application for acceptance to the refugee program: constant fear, airstrikes, mortars, witnessing the deaths of family members and friends. “My 28 year old niece was shot by a bullet in the head,” the grandfather says. “This is reality.” He wants to find work and have liberty and dignity for his children and grandchildren, he says.
The family moved in to the apartment on the very heels of Texas governor Greg Abbot announcing that “Syrian refugees are not going to be allowed into the state of Texas and given refuge.” (Something viewers see him proclaiming proudly before a cut to the images of the Syrian family in/near our neighborhood).
Abbott and other governors cited security concerns about Syrian refugees following attacks in Paris on Nov. 13 that killed 130. One faction involved in Syria’s civil war,The Islamic State, claimed the attacks, and a Syrian passport reportedly was discovered near the body of one suicide bomber (though authenticity has been questioned).
In the midst of this, residents of Lake Highlands, neighborhood churches and nonprofits came together to discuss the realities of the Syrian refugee crisis as well as to explain the vetting process for those entering the United States via the official refugee resettlement program. We covered that here, but below is a brief recap:
Keynote presenter Jason Clarke — founder of Seek The Peace, who I featured in the March magazines, addressed misinformation that he says is harming refugee families in Vickery Meadow (a community that flanks Lake Highlands, East Dallas and Preston Hollow) and beyond. He disputed the idea that participation in the official refugee program would put Americans at undue risk of terrorism. The Syrian civil war, which has been going on five years, has forced 9.5 million people from their homes, he told the audience, and went on to briefly explain the origins and world-wide impact of the Syrian civil war. Refugees go through a very strict 18-24 month security check before being accepted to the U.S. resettlement program, he continues. “Since 1975 the U.S. has resettled three million refugees. The United Nations vets refugees and send their cases through multiple U.S. agencies to find out who they are. The idea that we don’t know who’s coming in is not accurate. These people have undergone a more rigorous background check than you or I, unless you are a refugee. This is a very successful and extensively backed up program.” The program is not perfect, but it is strict, he says, and of about 50 million refugees around the world, less than one percent are resettled through the U.N resettlement program. “It is a big deal to be approved for resettlement,” Clarke says.
In the Vice show, reporter Giana Toboni presents all of the aforementioned assertions to Texas Congressman Mike McCaul and asks him, “Why would ISIS want to use this program to get terrorists into the U.S.?” To which he responds, “That’s a good question for ISIS.” Then the reporter asks if closing the door on the world’s most vulnerable population seems un-American to him (a leading question, I’ll concede), and his reply involves “protecting American lives.”
Jason Clarke responded to that sort of thinking in our most recent interview, “We cannot deny people help in the name of perfect (he later points out, unachievable) safety.”
Despite the words and efforts of Abbott, McCaul and their vociferous supporters, the Syrian family in our area was met with a warm welcome, they told Vice. When we last wrote about the topic, we received a slew of Facebook comments from Lake Highlands neighbors who offered their support to the refugees. No less than a dozen people emailed me asking specifically how they could help this Syrian refugee family. Mayor Mike Rawlings also has spoken in support of the Syrian refugee families and the U.S. refugee resettlement program.
The community where they live reportedly is home to others who share aspects of their culture and language.
There is so much more at stake, though, than what happens to one family. That is explored in the episode. If you have HBO or HBO Go, search and watch “Escape to Europe & Cycle of Terror.” It aired originally on Feb. 12.
Learn more about helping refugees at rescue.org/vice.