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Syrian Refugees Left With Questions After Immigration Halt


Now we're going to hear perspective from some of the Syrian citizens newly banned from entering the United States. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees live in neighboring Lebanon, where NPR's Alice Fordham has their reaction to the news.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: I'm in a poor neighborhood of Beirut on a cold day, sitting on plastic chairs with a young man named Omar Awadh. He's one of about 1,000 Syrians who lives around here, and he reminds me why they came.

OMAR AWADH: (Through interpreter) People fled Syria under terrible circumstances. There was shelling, destruction, burning, arbitrary arrests.

FORDHAM: He says there were atrocities committed by the Syrian government, the rebels opposing it and by an affiliate of al-Qaida. It's hard to resettle in Lebanon, which has problems of its own, and he says America is where many people want to get to.

AWADH: (Through interpreter) It's the dream of every youth who lives in an Arab country to get to the USA.

FORDHAM: Awadh cites good education, health care, the chance to work as reasons to go to the U.S. He adds proudly that Syrians are raised well and contribute to American society. We talk about the language of the executive order which says that the entry of Syrians as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the U.S., which really stings Awadh.

AWADH: (Through interpreter) First of all, any person who describes an entire population of 23 million people as detrimental must be detrimental himself. Secondly, it's America's loss.

FORDHAM: Of course, it's not just Syrian refugees who can't enter. It's people coming in with visas, too, from seven countries, including Syria and also Iraq, where the ban seemed to come as a particular shock because the U.S. works so closely with the government there to fight ISIS. NPR spoke with Iraqi lawmaker Razak al-Haidari.

RAZAK AL-HAIDARI: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: He says Trump is dealing with Iraq as if the two countries had no connection. But in fact, the U.S. is leading a coalition rebuilding Iraq's security forces, and there's thousands of American soldiers, diplomats and advisers there. Some influential Iraqi voices are calling for Americans to be banned from Iraq. In addition to anger, there's also disillusionment about the country so many dream of getting to. Back in Beirut, I speak to another Syrian refugee, Karam Ghannem, who was about to start a political science degree when he had to flee and now works in a factory. He tells me he, too, dreamed of America, and I ask why.

KARAM GHANNEM: (Speaking Arabic).

FORDHAM: "Because," he says, "they have democracy and they're living in freedom. This was our dream for Syria. We wanted to learn from the U.S." He says, though, now he's changed his mind about some Americans, the ones who voted for Trump. He said they chose a policy that's simply racist. Alice Fordham, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.