When the 10,000th Syrian refugee arrived on U.S. shores this week, there was no brass band tribute, no downpour of balloons and no glamorous model presenting an oversized check.
Whoever the person or family is, no matter where they settle down, they’re grateful just to have a shot at living the American dream in obscurity, away from the bombs, bullets and competing tyrannies of the Assad government and Islamic State terrorists.
Their new home won’t be Pierce County, although future Syrian refugees surely would feel blessed to land here, inshallah (God willing).
The 10,000-refugee goal was announced by President Obama last September. It qualifies as a modest down payment on what the U.S. should be doing to address the world’s most intractable humanitarian crisis. Canada has issued nearly five times as many visas to Syrians. Turkey is hosting some 2.7 million refugees as part of a pact with European Union countries flooded with Mediterranean crossers.
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These numbers pale when held up to the 13.5 million Syrians in dire need of aid, according to the UN. Half the country’s population has been displaced.
The numbers also pale when held up to a single photo of a boy named Omran, stone-faced under a mask of blood and dust, sitting in an ambulance after an Aug. 17 airstrike on Aleppo by Russian or Syrian forces.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for a “compact on responsibility-sharing for refugees.” Obama will lead a UN summit on refugees in late September. Both are overdue.
For the moment, however, the 10,000 milestone is noteworthy as a triumph of grass-roots hospitality. Scores of volunteers have provided Syrian immigrants with beds, mentors, English lessons, and escorts to the supermarket and doctor’s office.
National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice this week praised communities that “have continued to open their arms to these new neighbors, demonstrating the values that have made our nation great.”
Gov. Jay Inslee set a compassionate tone for Washington last fall. His support for resettling Syrians contrasted sharply with some other governors. Caught up in Trump-fueled fear-mongering, they ignored the reality of Homeland Security refugee screenings — a 12-to-18-month process more rigorous than what foreigners face when entering the U.S. on a work or education visa.
Washington has received a small fraction of the 10,000 national total — 120 people, mostly in the north and central Puget Sound, said Scott Ellis, outreach manager for World Relief Seattle.
Lutheran Community Services Northwest has placed one large family in Seattle and another in Bellevue, none yet in Tacoma.
Ellis said Monday that Washington is a Top 10 national refugee destination on the strength of established immigrant communities, such as Ukrainians and Somalians. That means our state’s share of the overall U.S. refugee pool is dominated by those countries.
But as the number of new refugees in Washington grows — fewer than 3,000 arrived here in 2015; more than 4,000 are projected in 2017 — the influx from the Mediterranean region inevitably will, too. The White House estimates total Syrian arrivals could reach 12,000 by the end of September.
Tacoma Community House, local churches and other partners have spent decades helping newcomers displaced by war and persecution find stable employment, housing and transportation. Extending the hand of friendship to Syrians, Iraqis and others from that region is a worthy endeavor.
Having journeyed so long and far, these settlers arrive poor in possessions but rich in gratitude and humility. They carry a history and culture born in the sands of Mesopotamia and a resilience refined in the fires of Aleppo and Ramadi.
South Sounders could learn as much from them as they from us, God willing.