The Statue of Liberty Belongs in Syria: Mideast Refugees Find a Home and Haven in an Unexpected Place

By Huck, Gabe | National Catholic Reporter, September 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

The Statue of Liberty Belongs in Syria: Mideast Refugees Find a Home and Haven in an Unexpected Place


Huck, Gabe, National Catholic Reporter


We came back from 10 months in Damascus in mid-June and plan to return to Syria early in September. When we speak about Syria with small groups in homes or churches here these days, my wife always makes a suggestion: Let's start a movement to tow the Statue of Liberty from the harbor in New York City to Syria's Mediterranean seaport at Latakia. That's where it belongs if there's anything at all to this business about giving over "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses."

Just in these weeks we've been here in the United States, Syria has again been the only place of refuge for the Lebanese whose homes and jobs have been destroyed and whose lives have been endangered by Israel's air strikes. Even though Israel bombed the roads and bridges that connect Beirut and Damascus, killing many, still hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have gotten to the border. Did Syria have a homeland security department there to decide who got in and who did not? Did the refugees pass through any metal detector? I would be surprised if any one even asked them to put their meager baggage on an x-ray belt.

Instead they probably heard: "Ahlan ou sahalan!" You are welcome! It comes naturally to the lips of Syrians.

We have heard from friends in Damascus that public schools and other institutions are being used to house these refugees. We have heard that President Bashar al-Assad has asked households to open their doors and give sanctuary to the stranger.One U.S. journalist suggested this was a public relations move on Syria's part. Some move. The United States should hire that PR firm.

Americans should know that Syrians are good at this work of receiving refugees. They have been practicing. If we go back a whole century, we'll find that Armenians were taken in. In 1948 and the years following, tens of thousands of Palestinians fleeing Israel's seizure of their homes and farms sought and received refuge in Syria. They and their children and their children's children are still there, unable even to visit the land of their ancestors. The early Palestinian camps in Damascus are now neighborhoods of fourand five-story cinderblock apartments.

Then there are the Iraqis. As the U.S. occupation of Iraq grinds on through its fourth year, more than half a million Iraqis have fled to Syria and a like number to Jordan. Once again, Syria's borders were open. …

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