For decades, South Florida has welcomed wave after wave of people fleeing political and economic unrest in their home countries. Cubans. Haitians. Nicaraguans. Colombians. In a region awash with exiles, you would think it would be easy to accommodate the latest swell of refugees.
Tell that to a Syrian.
The number of Syrian refugees coming to Florida has spiked in recent years, as the U.S. has started to accept more people escaping the war-torn Middle Eastern nation. But resettling these newest immigrants has proven challenging for aid agencies, charities and volunteers who help the new arrivals. Syrians don’t have a large community of their countrymen awaiting them — or many Arabic speakers with whom they can communicate.
“Life without language is very hard,” Kamar Byrkdar, a 27-year-old Syrian refugee who arrived in Broward County five months ago with her husband and two children, said through an interpreter. “We want to be able to improve our English so that we’re able to stand on our own two feet.”
When the Byrkdars arrived, after a three-year wait in Lebanon, they had work permits, Medicaid and an apartment west of Fort Lauderdale. But it took three months, Byrkdar said, for anyone to show them how to enroll their kids in school. She and her husband didn’t know how to buy bus fare, much less how to navigate routes. Byrkdar learned where she could sign up for English classes only three weeks ago. Her children remain anxious around the police, whom they associate with war.
Now they have to contend with the emotional stress of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, which barred entry into the U.S. for 90 days for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. It also indefinitely suspended the admission of Syrian refugees, and prohibited refugees from all other countries for 120 days.
Photo credit: Patrick Farrell, Miami Herald staff