Friday, December 4, 2015

Guest blogger: A refugee's story to warm your heart

Jim Keady, l, is an activist friend. He's also the guy who stood up to Chris Christie and was told to "Shut up and sit down," by Big Boy, who now wants to bar Syrian refugees from New Jersey. Jim's story about Nasir, 16, will melt your heart. Also: Jim just lost a race for State Assemblyman. This is how he reacts to a tough loss.

This is Nasir. He is a refugee from Afghanistan. He is 16, alone, and just made the treacherous journey from Turkey to Lesvos, Greece.

After he landed, I helped to get him settled at the camp along the shore and made sure he had dry clothes. I then accompanied him with two other volunteers to the transit camp where he will sleep tonight. We talked for a bit while sitting by a fire as he warmed himself. I learned that his father teaches English and his mother is a housewife. Some might ask, "Why didn't his parents come with him?" I am purely speculating here, but they may only have had enough money to get him out. The smugglers can charge $1,500+ just for the boat ride from Turkey and most likely he had to pass through Iran, Iraq, and possibly Pakistan on the way. (I know this was a possible route from speaking with other refugees tonight.) Think about having to make that decision as a parent. Consider how many parents (understandably) get upset when their kids are heading off to college and they aren't going to "see their babies" every day. Now, imagine you are sending your son off across four war-torn countries with the hope that he makes it to Europe and can start a new life.

Nasir was terrified. I did my best to calm him down and I promised him that I would accompany him to the transit camp and that he would be reunited with the men he made the journey with. There are special protocols for unaccompanied minors, so he was separated from them for a short time. My heart was breaking for him when we arrived at the transit camp. It can look really intimidating with its high fences and bright fluorescent lights - more like a prison camp than a welcoming locale, but I assume the UNHCR (the UN refugee agency) has their reasons for this standard layout. He kept looking up at the high fence and looking around for the other men. I kept reassuring him that he was going to be ok. That I would stay with him and that the guys at the transit camp were nice guys and would help him.

When the other men finally showed up, the smile that shot across his face was priceless. Once he saw them, his guard came down. He had a little bit of home with him. He said, quietly, "thank you Jim." Then we hugged and we took this picture. I gave him my business card and told him that as soon as he gets a phone, I want to hear from him. I hope he writes me.

Peace, JWK

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