Knowing we have a home nurtures within us the sustaining tapestry of security, identity, purpose, perspective, language, tradition and love. It is a fundamental ingredient for any form of prosperity.
I met the Yaseens, six months ago and was drawn to their story. A multi-generational Syrian refugee family who arrived in Grand Rapids less than one year ago after fleeing the repeated attacks of the Syrian Regime on their home in Dar’aa. It took them three years to secure safe and legal refugee status, leading to their eventual admittance to the United States. They are still in transition, existing in the uncertain space between their past and their future, working to create a semblance of identity, security, purpose, tradition…home.
My name is Oudai Yaseen.
(Here is where) I tell of our suffering and our journey to be refugees in Jordan:
“Because of the suffering that the Syrian people have endured at the hands of the Syrian Regime, the children of Syria went out of their schools, to the streets, asking for freedom and justice for everybody. The Regime faced these kids with tanks and shelling and started killing them for no other reason than taking to the streets. The Regime started attacking homes, torturing and killing innocent people without reason or justice. This started from March 18, 2011 until October 23, 2012. During this time, we stayed in (Dar’aa) Syria, suffering from the killing and terrorism by the Regime; hiding from one place to another between the trees and behind the homes because of the intensity of the indiscriminant bombing. If somebody tried to go out of their home to run their daily errands they were faced by barricades and by road blocks., where the soldiers would curse and hit people at random. At that point, when we found there was no safety for us and there was no food or medicine, we decided, along with our children, to leave Syria across the borders.
Because we did not have passports, Kossai and Mohammed Yasseen, Reem and the kids Adam and Malak, went to Jordan in the month of July, 2011 to the city of Urbid and rented a house there. Then on the 23 December 2012, me, myself, Odai Yasseen, and Miriam Odah, my wife, and my daughter left to Jordan through the official road and with passports. Our car was registered in the name of Miriam Odah, and we rented a home. We paid 300 Jordanian dinar for rent—without electricity or water. During that time we were suffering because we had spent all our savings and sold all our jewelry that we had collected. We had collected these during our lives previously, and during my work in the gulf area for 35 years, during which time I built a beautiful home in Syria and I have a lot of memories in it and we planted a lot of fruit trees. I was taking care of these trees like they are my children. Then I built a workshop and I called it the Technical Workshop for Iron Work and I also had a shop in the name of my granddaughter, Malak, for oriental antiques. The Regime’s security forces stole that shop during the daylight— and then, in front of all the people, they destroyed the shop. This Regime has destroyed all our memories and stole everything we have done and collected during our previous life. And I also had 70 shares in a hospital called Al Shifa, which was also stolen and destroyed by the regime in 2014.
In 2014, I contacted the Commission for Refugees in Aman and the official told me that we could not go back to Syria and there was no work for us in Jordan. However, there was an opportunity to immigrate to America as refugees and he asked us if we agree. We told him that yes we do agree, for sure, because we are in trouble and we don't have money left and we have spent all our savings. We were in debt at that time as well. Then the Jordanian government asked us to bring our car and give it to the officials there and they sold it without our knowledge, and they didn't give us any of the money that they got for it. I consider this as an assault on my rights, because they stole this car from me. This car, I went to Jordan with it in an official manner—I had all the papers.
Then after that, we came to the United States and we found a lot of nice people who greeted us and respected us and treated us with dignity and we found the freedom we were seeking but had never received in our own country. There was a huge difference between Jordan and the United States; between the governments of Jordan and the United States and between the people of Jordan and the United States. We were received in the United States with smiles and with honesty. We received financial and medical assistance. We were treated very well. We like the American people because we find them truthful and honest. Our kids went to school and started learning and also the older people according to their ability. We were able to get drivers licenses and buy cars and enter in training sessions for English language.
We have left behind our backs the hatred of the Syrian Regime, which is a murderous regime, killing their own people. We are looking forward to our life with the American people who love life and respect humanity and give everybody their rights without discrimination. This is a great people who deserve our respect and our hard work to be a part of it.
A letter From Oudai Yaseen