UCF hosted Syrian refugee Mohamed Yusut this afternoon for Stories from Syria, as part of Social Justice Week.
UCF students and members of Students Organize for Syria, Katerji and Ali Khater, translated the discussion for Yusut, who only speaks Arabic.
While living in Syria and working as an electrician, a missile destroyed Yusut’s area of business, driving him to seek refuge. Yusut began the extensive application process to take his family to America to escape oppression. Whilst waiting, a refugee camp in Jordan became Yusut’s temporary home.
“It’s very unsanitary, very unorganized and it’s very chaotic because of how many are there,” Katerji said of the Jordanian refugee camp, speaking for Yusut. “Since there’s a huge influx of people going into these camps, it’s hard for the Jordanian government to maintain these camps.”
The harsh conditions of these sites, and problems such as shortages of bathrooms and crowded hospitals became too much for Yusut.
After enduring the yearlong process of refugee application, which consisted of in-depth interviews and background checks, Yusut arrived in Sanford in October of 2015.
With him came one of his daughters and two sons. Yusut’s other daughters, both married, reside in Saudi Arabia, but he said one day he hopes to have them join him in America.
“When he used to envision America, when he was in Syria, he’d look at it as a very civilized country, a very mannered country,” Katerji said of Yusut’s thoughts on America.
“He’s very happy that he’s here, because everybody’s nice to him.”
Yusut said the American’s help in obtaining all of his necessary documents, and their taking care of him has made him feel welcomed.
The hardest part of Yusut’s transition thus far is the language barrier. Him and his sons have begun taking English classes to better their communication skills. After learning the language, Yusut said he’d like to get a job, either as an electrician or pursuing art.
Should the conditions in his home country clear up and return to normal, Yusut said he’d love to return home one day. However, he’s happy to be living here in the meantime and serving as a first-hand witness for what’s happening in Syria.
Director of UCF’s Social Justice and Advocacy, Edwanna Andrews, said these stories are important for students to hear.
“You all are our generation of law makers coming up, and policy makers, the movers and shakers. So it’s important that not only do UCF students have the knowledge, but they have the correct knowledge,” Andrews said.
“When you have an opportunity to provide first-hand experience, that’s more powerful than just watching it on the news.”
Social Justice Week continues tomorrow with Late Nite Art in the Student Union, and Tunnel of Oppression on Friday.
Rosie Reitze is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @rosie_ucf or email her at RosieR@centralfloridafuture.com.