Oh, I Remember: Reflections on the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Selena Sujoldzic, an LIRS Migrant and Refugee Leadership Academy participant and Planning Committee member, shares her story in today’s post. She reflects on the crisis in Syria and gives us a firsthand look of the journey of a refugee fleeing violence and persecution. This moving account of Selena’s own experiences as a refugee gives us a glimpse of the experiences of Syrian refugees today, and prompts us to ask, how can we help?

Selena Sujoldzic
Selena Sujoldzic, former refugee from Bosnia.

Like many Americans, I have been following the refugee crisis in Europe very closely. I have seen the pictures of those precious little souls that washed up on the shores. I have read stories of their painful journey through Europe.

This situation is close to home for me and it hit me right in the heart. The images I have seen first broke my heart and then made me angry at countries who sat back and let this happen. In fact, some countries are still sitting back and simply watching.

But one morning something different happened to me, something I haven’t felt so far while following their journey: I was watching the news and there was a live report from Austria where refugees were preparing for their trip to Germany. The camera showed a live feed of two buses arriving at the meeting point in Austria. I watched the refugees as they got off the buses and observed the cheering and clapping of everyone there.

These images took me right back to when my mom, grandma, brother, and I were watching my dad get on the bus so he could reach Croatia first to help us escape from Bosnia. I remember all the people standing around, watching loved ones leave, faces in the windows of the buses. My dad waived and held back tears, not knowing if he would see us again, but also knowing that there was no other way… oh I remember.

Syrian refugees waiting for a train in Vienna.
Syrian refugees waiting for a train in Vienna. Photo by Josh Zakary under CC BY-NC 2.0

The live feed on the news also took me back to when my mom, my brother, and I finally arrived by bus in Croatia to reunite with my dad. Before the bus even stopped, my dad saw me in the window and ran along with the bus waiving at me and once again, holding back his tears. They were a different kind of tears this time… oh, I remember. He was dressed in a suit again, like the dad I remember from childhood and not this worn out man that the war turned him into before he left.

I remember how scared I was, at 12 years old, because I couldn’t fully comprehend what was coming next—where do I go from here, am I really safe?

I remember how the air smelled, how the air felt on my skin when I walked outside of that bus.

I remember hearing cries of happiness from people, but still hearing the uncertainty and fear in those same cries.

I remember every detail, the smell, the sound… oh, I remember.

Syrian Refugees hold signs to thank Austrians.
Syrian refugees hold cardboard signs thanking Austrians. Photo by Josh Zakary under CC BY-NC 2.0

When I saw those people getting off the bus in Austria, tears were coming down my face without my even noticing, until a tear dropped on my hand and I touched my face. It was as if I were there with them: I knew the smell in the air, I knew the feel of the air, I could almost smell the gasoline from the bus, I could feel their exhaustion, happiness to be there, confusion as to why they were kicked out of Hungary but here, the people were still cheering. I recognized the internal battle of whether to trust this safety or be on guard. I was right there with them and it took me a while to stop the tears.

After seeing these images, and reflecting back on my own experiences as a refugee, I want to know what I can do to help. I am not normally quick to cry about things but this morning simply put me right there with them. Someone helped me when I resettled, and now it is my turn to do that for someone else. I thank America every day for not turning its back on my family and me, but this morning, I was the most thankful to America for not sitting back and watching, but letting me into its land and saving me.

Syrian refugee waiting to reach Germany gives a thumbs up.
Syrian refugees waiting to reach Germany. Photo by Josh Zakary under CC BY-NC 2.0

While many tears came this morning, I am a person of action and I immediately began to ask, “what needs to be done and how can I do it?” I can donate, I can reach out to the government with letters pleading to open the doors to the refugees, and I can raise awareness through my social media. Together, we can all do more. As migrants and refugees, we must support resettlement efforts and lend a hand to welcome the stranger, as we were welcomed before, and turn them from a stranger into our friend.

As Syrians begin to arrive in the United States, there will be a need for volunteers to help these newcomers assimilate. I hope you will be a part of this important effort. To support Syrian refugees fleeing violence, and to urge the U.S. government to admit more Syrian refugees, send a message to President Barack Obama by visiting our Action Center or donate to support refugees. As former refugees, we all carry a very powerful story of overcoming incredible challenges and finding new hope. This is one of our most powerful assets.

If your story resonates with the experiences of Syrian refugees, please take the time to share it. Stories can be emailed to outreach@lirs.org.

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