Lawrence-Based Syrian Refugee Discusses Her Journey to America at Alliance for Aleppo Forum

Mohammed encouraged students to recognize how refugees face a real threat due to the violent climate in Syria.

Although Zainab Mohammed’s journey to America began with a simple bus ride, the rest of her trip was far from ordinary. After several nights of walking through northern Turkey, and two years of laborious waiting, she was finally granted entrance to the United States.

Mohammed shared her experience leaving Syria and transitioning to life in Lawrence, Massachusetts at “Alliance with Aleppo,” a vigil and fundraiser co-hosted by Out of the Blue and Andover High School’s Diversity Club. The vigil sought to highlight the human aspect of the refugee crisis and to educate students about the effort made by community members to fight the problem, explained Cindy Espinosa ’18, a board member of Out of the Blue.

“I hope the Andover community takes away that [the refugee crisis] is a real issue and that there are people behind the word ‘refugees’.… I just think it’s more personal and inspiring when you hear from first-hand experiences,” said Espinosa.

After finishing high school in Syria, Mohammed was unable to continue her studies due to the violent climate in the country. Her father eventually decided to move her family to the United States to protect her.

“It’s very dangerous living there. [We] don’t have work, [we] don’t have money, [we] don’t have anything in my country”, said Mohammed during her presentation.

Mohammed’s family lived in Turkey for two years before they were vetted to immigrate. During this time period, Mohammed had to work twelve hours a day to cover the expensive cost of living in Turkey where she was left with little time to study. Her family resettled in the United States with the help of the International Institute of New England (IINE), an organization that resettles refugees in the greater Boston area. Mohammed’s inability to speak English made it difficult to resettle initially.

“Resettlement is not easy at all, but I think the language barrier is one of the biggest obstacles because that actually is what prevents [the refugees] from getting jobs, too. And jobs are what they need for them to survive,” said Aneela Qureshi Rafiq, a volunteer at IINE, during the vigil.

IINE serves hundreds of other families in the Boston area. Their programs include a ninety-day resettlement period where the clients’ rent and fees are paid for, community and cultural orientations are offered, and participants receive job training. However, IINE’s reach has been limited due to a shortage of monetary resources and recent executive orders from the Trump administration.

“[After the Executive Orders], there is a ceiling on the funding now. The funding is going to decrease because they will not be able to welcome as many refugees. And a lot of the programs they had put into place prior to the ban, they are still going, but that money is not going to be there,” said Qureshi Rafiq.

Half of the funds raised at the vigil will be donated to IIEA, and the other half will go to White Helmet, an organization of volunteer rescue workers aiding in Syria to provide emergency medical assistance in the aftermath of airstrikes. Lilia Cai-Hurteau, Instructor of Chinese, is active in organizing multiple drives for refugee families and encourages students to be involved in the cause after the vigil.

“There are so many causes out there, so many organizations that need help now. I would just encourage people to focus on maybe one particular organization that’s closer to heart that they can make a difference,” said Cai-Hurteau.

Blake Campbell ’18, an attendee of the vigil, believes that students should take more action to address issues directly.

“Something that often frustrates me about social justice particularly here on campus is that we do an excellent job to make people aware of what is going on, but I don’t think we do well with actually performing the services that people really need… I think what we need to do and what is accomplished today is letting people to know what needs to happen and how to contribute,” said Campbell.