Bassam Al Abbas does not like to think about the civil war raging in his home country of Syria.
The conflict, which produced nearly 5 million refugees and internally displaced millions more, also drove him and his family from their homes in 2012. For years they navigated foreign languages and vetting systems before eventually settling in Austin, Texas, in May.
“I cannot describe how much they welcomed me,” Al Abbas told Here & Now. “They made us love this country.”
Al Abbas tells Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson about the difficulties of forming a new life in a new land and the optimism he now holds for his children, and responds to the fears of Americans who say the refugee program poses a threat to the country’s safety.
Interview Highlights: Bassam Al Abbas
Note: This interview was transcribed from a conversation with Qahtan Mustafa, interpreter and resettlement program supervisor for the Refugee Services of Texas, Austin.
On the vetting system and the experience of living in the United States
“It took me one year and eight months [to get approval to come to the United States.]”
“When I first arrived in May, my first difficulty was the language. I wasn’t able to speak the language that most people here speak.”
“When I first came, or I knew I’m going to America, I thought it’s like ‘This is a work contract.’ So I was thinking that I’m going there to work, and then when I arrived at the airport, a lot of people welcomed me. And I was thinking about the future of my kids and I think my kids will have a really good education opportunity. When I arrived, the [Refugee Services of Texas] organization welcomed me. And immediately, I started to apply for my paperwork here that’s required from me. Everything is OK. Thank God, I have a job. My kids, now, are in school. Everything is going well with me.”
On the status of his family and other refugees who have left Syria
“All of my family have left Syria. I have no one [who] stayed in Syria now. They left Syria to different countries, but they are not here in the U.S.”
“The people who think in a negative way of Syrian refugees, I think this is a wrong thought for them. We are — the Syrian refugees who are currently in America — we will work to make them switch these thoughts about us.”
“Syria is my country. But my life now is connected around my kids. And my kids’ future is here. I have three kids. My oldest son wants to be a plane engineer. My second son wants to be an IT engineer. My youngest one loves animals and he wants to be working in the medical field with animals.”
Bassam Al Abbas, Syrian refugee.