This post is part of a series highlighting what Syrian refugees in the United States are saying. Part 1 describes their thoughts on terrorism. Part 3 focuses on their love of U.S. liberty. Part 4 highlights their positive views of the United States.
Amid unfounded accusations of being terrorists , Syrian refugees in the United States have been focused on something much more mundane – finding jobs. In news report after news report from one side of the country to another, they insist that they just want to contribute to the U.S. economy.
“The important thing for me is to work here,” Abdulhamid Jawabra, a Syrian refugee, told the Sacramento Bee, after describing how the Syrian government destroyed all of his possessions. Walid Abu Aliess, a Syrian living in Florida who was shot in Syria, feels the same way about landing a job. “I’m interested in working,” he insisted to the Orlando Sentinel. “Whatever work is available.”
After years in squalid refugee camps, they aren’t picky. “I’d take any job,” Fouad Wawieh, who also lost his home, told the Los Angeles Times. Helal, a Syrian refugee in Toledo, made the same comment. “If I can’t find work as a barber, I’ll work any other job,” he said.
Mohamad Al Obeid, a Syrian in Minnesota, landed a job at Wal-Mart. He had no car, so he walked the 3 miles for a job interview. “We lost everything,” his wife said, so now they want it back. “We came because we did not want to lose our life, not for money or welfare,” Nadeen Yusuf, a Syrian refugee who owns a craft business in Buffalo, said.
“We didn’t come here to sleep – we came here to work,” Farhan Alqadri, who owned a shop in Syria before the civil war, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Even though I am not young anymore, I still want to improve my life… We are here to contribute to this country.” Alqadri now has a job cleaning machinery at a plant in Pennsylvania.
Syrians appreciate work more than most. Many lost their jobs due to the civil war, and then escaped to Jordan, only to be denied the legal right to work there. This is what happened to Aysha Al Haj Kasem. “Now I want to work,” she told National Geographic after arriving in North Carolina. “I will work to help my husband.”
Mohamad Tanbal, a Syrian refugee in Michigan, told International Business Times in December that he was proud of his work washing dishes and also that his sons work. “We are working,” he said. “We are independent.” But his goal is for his children to do even better. “My most important dream is that my children finish their education,” he said.
Some of the Syrians that have spoken out since the Paris attacks are also interested in joining America’s entrepreneurial class. “In the U.S., if you work hard, you will find success,” Kamal, a Syrian refugee in Houston, told Fusion. “That’s what I’ve discovered.” Kamal was a chef at a 5-star restaurant in Syria before the war and has already found a position as a chef in Houston. Now he’s considering opening his own restaurant. “I want to become a master chef,” he said.
“We are not here because we are hungry, or need something,” Mohamad, who fled Syria to Kentucky, told the BBC. “We are here because of war. We can work like anyone.” He adds, “I want to go to university and make [a] business.”
Yassin, a Syrian refugee living in Tennessee, has already fulfilled his dream of owning his own business. He owns Yassin’s Falafel House in downtown Knoxville. He said, “I love America… I’m very lucky. If I wasn’t here maybe I would’ve been killed,” so he is taking advantage of every moment here. He believes that “there are other Syrians who would do well in the United States.”
Many of the Syrian refugees in Turkey are starting businesses there, highlighting the culture’s entrepreneurial spirit. “Even the Turkish people that come to my restaurant prefer my food to their traditional dishes,” Abu Mohammed, a Syrian who lost his leg in the conflict and fled to Turkey, bragged to NPR.
It’s not just restaurants either. Refaai Hamo, known as “the Scientist,” told ABC News that he has a long list of inventions that he’s working on, including a plane that can fly for two days without fuel and a device for predicting earthquakes. “I refuse to be called a refugee only,” he said, adding he just wanted to “get back to work.”
Syrians want to work, and the United States would benefit by letting them. As my recent review of the academic literature on refugee surges demonstrates, refugees have been shown to raise wages for native-born Americans, lower prices for common goods, and start businesses that create jobs. No studies have found that the U.S. economy has suffered from admitting refugees.
There are many humanitarian reasons to save refugees. But it should not be overlooked that the work ethic that refugees have repeatedly demonstrated will benefit our economy as well. What can provide a better rebuttal to those who believe Syrian refugees are only an unnecessary security risk than the economic boost that they provide?