Understanding The Lives Of Syrian Refugees, As Told By 'Humans Of NY'

by Miki Ding

Every single person featured in the Syrian Refugee series of Brandon Stanton’s "Humans of New York," has expressed an optimism about a better life in the US.

Two kids, who survived a bomb attack on their school in second grade, are quoted on the Instagram:

My dad says the people are friendly and there are a lot of friendly kids there. I really hope that we can have a small farm and horse when we get there because my grandmother really love animals. I’d like it to be a square farm with lots of flowers and rabbits.

But, unfortunately, considering the current state of mind in America, some will be bitterly disappointed by the amount of resistance they may be met with upon arrival.

We see middle schoolers being called terrorist by their peers, women being mugged and having their headscarves ripped off their heads and insults hurled at anybody who looks Middle Eastern.

Trump called it a security measure to ban all Muslims coming into the US to “figure out what the hell is going on."

Hasan Minhaj of "The Daily Show" put a different spin on it, when he agreed:

Muslims should not be allowed in the country; it's just not safe. Muslims are in danger. One third of a major political party is backing a racist maniac. This place is scary right now.

The widespread hatred in our country has put us in a dangerous place where we begin to allow fear to shut us out.

The United States has called for stricter restrictions on the refugee vetting despite the already intensive process, and even calls to ban them altogether for fear of even one being recruited by ISIS.

But every post that Stanton shares bring us closer to a place where we should be: a place of empathy.

1. Taking in Syrian refugees is not about politics; it's about morals.

Reading "Humans of New York" helps us realize that these families could have been ours.

The magic of it is that Stanton chooses ordinary citizens, and we find that they wanted nothing from the war.

When we hear the specific stories of innocent people getting blindfolded, beaten, their families blown apart by missiles or their autistic children being unable to cope in the PTSD of hearing bombs, we are no longer afforded detachment.

We begin to realize how much our choices affect people.

According to one man, who escaped Syria after trying to manage a hospital for innocent civilians:

We've been waiting for two years now. We've been through all our interviews. Last week this letter came and said that we've been 'deferred'. I'm not even sure what that means. We were very truthful about everything. We have nothing left in Syria. I want to continue working as a doctor in America. Here my hands are tied. Refugees are not allowed to work. I don't have papers. I can't communicate with anyone. I worked my entire life to become a doctor. I did nothing but study for six years. I didn't even have a hobby. Now I'm doing nothing. I'm losing hope.

To be clear, our fear has led to the direct punishment of refugees being deferred.

We are responsible for politicians taking these hard lined stances that push back years of waiting for people because they reflect what they think voters want.

But the lives of refugees cannot be trivialized into a political debate. You cannot be self-righteous about who deserves safety.

Could it have been you?


There is no difference in the lives they chose to live and ours, and it should not be difficult to see why we cannot turn our backs to them.

2. Refugees are victims, not criminals.

When a young girl named Aya was forced to flee to Turkey, she became aware that the people who were looking to hurt her were not just those she left behind.

Turkey has taken many refugees and we should be thankful for that. And the people here were nice to us at first. Our neighbors brought us rice and food. And then more refugees came. And more. And then everything changed. Now people shout at us in the streets. They tell us to leave. But we have nowhere to go. A man recently started sending me messages on Facebook saying, ‘Get out!’ I didn’t even know him. Why me? Why did he choose me? We had to switch apartments four times because our landlord decided Arabic people are no longer allowed. I’ve been hit by a car. My sister got hit in the face at school and lost two teeth and now her vision is bad in one eye. Being a refugee is really hard. They blame us for everything. They blame us for no jobs. For crowded streets. For crime. They say we are the reason for everything bad. And if war ever comes to Turkey, we’ll be the first to die. Because they’ll blame us for that too.

We know they did nothing wrong every time we hear how their otherwise normal lives were disrupted by things outside of their control, but we do not treat them that way. Their lives have been torn apart and, yet, we do not allow that to soften us.

We do not want to have to think about their misery because we do not want to be responsible for alleviating it.

But even silence is a choice.

Each "Humans of New York" post pulls our heartstrings, and we begin to understand that we should not be afraid of them, but we should be afraid for them.

There is also a petition to reverse the decision and bring Aya to the US.

3. The refugees do not need to be accomplished to deserve our compassion.

When we talk about how Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian migrant; how Muslim greats from Muhammad Ali and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar have changed sports for us; how Muslims fight in our military; or have contributed to science or are leaders in business, we are thinking about ourselves.

A notable scientist refugee talked about his dreams and inventions.

Despite his hard life of losing seven people in his family to a government anti-personnel missile, and being reduced to work for close to nothing, he stated:

I just want to get back to work. I want to be a person again. I don’t want the world to think I’m over. I’m still here.

Actor Edward Norton asked to host a fundraiser for this man, raising $425,000 for him.

President Obama was particularly touched, saying, “Welcome to your new home. You’re part of what makes America great.”

But isn't what actually makes America great the fact that we care about people?

Instead of thinking about the success we gain from taking them in, we should recognize the level of humanity we will lose if we do not help them, regardless of what they can provide for us.

We should be ashamed that we continue to act as if the refugees must offer something in return for kindness.

Their lives should not be put up to be scrutinized as if it were a resume. That is utter selfishness, and we continue to deceive ourselves by thinking we are good people for allowing the "good ones" in.

Every single Syrian refugee, whether successful or not, is important because they are human beings, not because of their accomplishments, and they deserve to be as mediocre as the rest of the US.

As Malcolm Forbes says, “You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

Reading "Humans of New York" shows us that people are people, and their lives are inherently valuable.

It creates compassionate people who find a reason to stick to their morals instead of fearful people easily driven awry by politicians.

When we decided that we were scared, Congress passed new measures making it harder for refugees to enter and Republicans drove up their rampant attacks on Muslims.

They were rewarded by an increased surge in their poll numbers.

When we decide that we will not be moved by their dangerous rhetoric and that we will choose love again and again, they will change to suit us.

Reading "Humans of New York" gives us courage and reminds us that we are doing the right thing because it gives us faces and stories to otherwise distant statistics.

If we are lucky enough to live in a world where we are not at the mercy of strangers’ kindness, we need to be the ones who offer it.