Responding to the growing refugee crisis in Europe stemming from the civil war in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the United States is increasing the number of refugees it accepts from 70,000 to 100,000 by 2017.
To date, about 1,500 refugees from Syria have resettled in the U.S. since the conflict in their homeland began in March of 2011. Organizations in the Midwestern U.S. state of Illinois are preparing for an increase in those numbers as the war in Syria drags on.
Asmat Khalil Dado had a good life in Aleppo, Syria. He says his job as a bus driver provided well for his family of 6. All of that changed when war came to his doorstep four years ago.
“There were planes that were dropping bombs, helicopters that were dropping barrel bombs every day, and we didn’t know when disaster would come,” Dado recalls.
So the Dado family did what millions of Syrians have done since the war in their country began – they fled the turmoil with nothing but the clothes on their backs and what they could carry with them.
“We really had no choice. And that decision was the hardest decision we had to make because we knew once we left we could never go back,” Dado says.
His request for asylum brought him to Illinois, where the Dados are among 16 Syrian refugee families resettled so far this year.
“Chicago is a hub for many refugees. In a typical year, Illinois will accept about 2,000 refugees,” says Suzanne Akhras, director of the Syrian Community Network, a new organization helping Syrian refugees integrate into new communities.
“There are so many refugees that come here that don’t have the community support, and this isolation is really the worst thing for a refugee to feel,” she says.
Akhras believes many of the 2,000 refugees coming to Illinois next year will be Syrian.
“I believe that we as Americans have big hearts, and we want to help Syrian refugees to come here and to resettle,” she says.
But not every American shares her views. Among them is leading Republican presidential contender Donald Trump.
“I’m putting the people on notice that are coming here from Syria as part of this mass migration, that if I win... if I win, they’re going back, I’m telling you. They’re going back,” Trump said last week, speaking before voters in New Hampshire.
Despite the issue figuring prominently on the presidential campaign trail, Dado doesn’t have a home to go back to, and he is weary from years of being on the move.
“People need to have some time to rest from war. They need to have some peace. They need to be able to raise their families, to live their normal life, to do homework, to go to school, to be able to find a job,” Dado says.
All important aspects of a normal family life Asmat Dado and his family have now found in the small but growing Syrian refugee community in Chicago.