Audio Recording of Interview
19-year-old Ghaiath Idrees describes the violence he witnessed in Syria as his village was destroyed, his family’s journey to Jordan, and his resettlement in the United States for college, where despite the difficulties of communicating with family an ocean away, his faith kept him grounded. Ghaiath plans on attending medical school in the United States after graduating from college, and hopes that Americans understand the struggles refugees face in their new homes.
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Narrator: Ghaiath Idrees
Content Warning: death, violence, bombings
Summary: 19-year-old Ghaiath Idrees describes the violence he witnessed in Syria as his village was destroyed, his family’s journey to Jordan, and his resettlement in the United States for college, where despite the difficulties of communicating with family an ocean away, his faith kept him grounded. Ghaiath plans on attending medical school in the United States after graduating from college, and hopes that Americans understand the struggles refugees face in their new homes.
Topics: Immigration Process, War, Violence, Childhood, Community, Religion, Gender, Discrimination, Friendship, Education
Section One (0:00-37:53)
Immigration Process - Ghaiath moved from Homs, Syria to the United States in 2016, at the age of 16. He was born in Saudi Arabia where his father worked and then moved to Syria where he grew up. He identifies as Syrian because his parents are Syrian, and because Saudi Arabia does not offer citizenship for being born there.
War - Homs was one of the first to experience unrest, which quickly spread throughout the country. The president had been in office for 19 years, his father for 30. People joined the “Free Army” and began claiming cities, fighting the government army. Ghaiath believes the conflict could have been resolved quickly if other countries like Iran had not gotten involved, sending weapons and soldiers.
Violence - The government began shooting protestors, so people also began using guns to protect themselves. They would get news of 70 people dying per day, sometimes people Ghaiath knew. The government began bombing random cities. Once a the house across Ghaiath’s street was bombed, resulting in glass shattering above them.
Childhood - From his village, Ghaiath could see airplanes coming down and throwing missiles, and the resulting smoke. He was 12 or 13 at the time. He remembers that soldiers would get excited about shooting people. Many teenagers were put in jail to prevent them from joining the Free Army.
Violence, War, Community - Once the Free Army entered their village, Ghaiath’s family stayed in their house for twenty-one days in a row due to bombs, subsisting off of food they had. The village’s population expanded as people from neighboring villages came to shelter in their homes. Ghaiath’s family too sheltered another family they didn’t know.
Religion, Gender - While civilians evacuated, everyone was searched except for women, because Muslim men are not meant to touch unrelated women. Sometimes families would dress men in their household as women to escape, putting makeup and a veil on them. Eventually, the army found out this tactic and put women on patrol.
Discrimination - People from Damascus did not treat refugees from Homs well, believing that they would bring destruction with them. People would sell bread to someone from Homs for double the price. Ghaiath felt that it was wrong for them to not help their own people. Damascus was eventually destroyed.
Discrimination - To get past government officials, Ghaiath’s father would give excuses. It was difficult to get past border officials because of their last name; the Idrees family was known as government officials who had fled and turned against the government.
Violence - Ghaiath’s family reached the house of someone who was helping smuggle people to Jordan. Smugglers would sometimes swindle clients. He heard of a pregnant woman who had been shot a mile away from the border between Syria and Jordan.
Immigration Process - There were only two people with guns to defend 75 families. Many people twisted their ankles and were unable to walk. They stayed in a camp in Jordan and then moved to the capital, in his grandparents’ apartment.
Education, Career - 20 days later they enrolled in school. Ghaiath was in 7th grade, his brothers in elementary school. He studied hard in school and was a top student, while working in various places including a restaurant and bakery to help his father support the family.
Friendship - He loved the people of Jordan because they did not discriminate against Syrians. Many of his friends were Palestinian and he FaceTimes them almost daily.
Immigration Process - When Ghaiath was in 11th grade, his family was contacted by an organization who said they were eligible to move to the US. It took 6 months which he considered quite fast, as he knew people who had waited 5 years.
Education - Despite their good life in Jordan, they wanted to come to the US for college, because Ghaiath and his brothers were good students. Ghaiath wanted to become a doctor which he could not in Jordan because of the expense and how colleges designated for Syrian refugees only accepted four or five students yearly.
Family - Their uncles were supposed to come with them but their flights were postponed. Ghaiath’s family considered staying but their uncle convinced them to go. Their uncles’ flights were stopped and they are still in Jordan.
Immigration Process - Ghaiath was grateful to the refugee center and decided to help out there to give back.
Language - Ghaiath knew very little English when he came but practiced hard, noticing and writing down new words daily. Because of this, he did not have to go to ESL.
Education - Ghaiath maintained a 4.0 GPA, attended summer classes, and will eventually finish his undergrad in biochemistry, going on to medical school.
Section Two (37:53-46:39)
Cultural Adjustment - The language barrier was difficult, but a common issue for refugees which Ghaiath overcame in around 3 or 4 months. The harder part was missing family and the time difference making it difficult to keep in contact. They are not allowed to go back and visit Jordan on their green card right now.
Religion, Discrimination - Praying, asking God for forgiveness, and believing that someone was watching over them gave Ghaiath strength. He was worried he might be mistreated as a Muslim in America, but everyone was accepting. The diversity of Utica helped.
Childhood - Ghaiath’s experiences have made him look at life different from how a normal 19 year old would. He believes it has made him more mature, compelled him to plan ten years ahead, and value life more. He says that there are things going on that the news would never show and even in his interview, he did not want to go into detail. To Americans, he says that refugees only come to a new country because they are forced to, and wants people to know about their struggles even if they do not help.