Individuals who fled Iran and Vietnam demand politicians stand up for American values
As Republican calls grow this week to close America’s doors to Syrian refugees fleeing from the violent terrorism of the self-styled Islamic State, refugees from other conflicts who found haven in America and Virginia added their voices to the debate. Refugees condemned calls to close America and Virginia’s doors to those who are fleeing violent extremists and noted our country was built by immigrants and refugees from around the globe.
Yasmine Taeb was born in Tehran, Iran and fled war-torn Iran with her parents and three siblings in 1987 during the bitter eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict that left nearly a million dead and millions of refugees. Taeb and her family's grueling journey to find safety in Turkey and eventually the United States is reminiscent of the calls for help that we see from the more than 4 million Syrian refugees and 8 million who are internally displaced as a result of the four-and-a-half years Syrian civil war.
"It's our responsibility to help those most vulnerable in our communities,” said Taeb. “We have a proud history as Americans of demonstrating our leadership by welcoming those fleeing violence and persecution. It's a tradition I benefitted from and I cannot remain silent while politicians threaten to deny safety to those seeking it. As Americans and Virginians we have an ethical and moral obligation to live our values and be a light and home for those fleeing terror, without regard to their religious or ethnic background."
Taeb and her family resettled in South Florida after arriving in America. She now lives in Northern Virginia where she has become an active member of the community, running for office, and working as the Legislative Representative for Human Rights and Civil Liberties at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, A Quaker Lobby in the Public Interest. Yasmine is leading FCNL's work on the Syrian refugee crisis and recently co-convened a national mobilization meeting with MoveOn.org to respond to the crisis.
The familiar scene of Syrian children, women and men risking their lives on dangerous seas towards the unknown shores of a foreign land mirrors the Vietnamese refugee experience forty years ago. Tram Nguyen was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her family fled war-torn Vietnam. After Nguyen’s father escaped from a re-education camp, her parents and two older sisters fled Vietnam by boat while Nguyen's mom was pregnant with her. Among the many perils they faced on the South China Sea, at the age of 9, Thai pirates kidnapped Nguyen’s oldest sister before she was eventually returned to her family. Nguyen’s family arrived to the United States in 1981, where they settled in Henrico, Virginia and raised four daughters. Nguyen is now the co-executive director of New Virginia Majority, a community-based group committed to empowering immigrant communities.
“My family’s story is not unique. Refugees have no choice but to leave their home country. For many, like my dad, to not leave is to face certain death. The current exodus of Syrian refugees cries for the same humanitarian response that saved my family,” said Nguyen. “Denying them refuge runs opposite to what America stands for. Politicians who would reject families who seek safety from terror don’t represent my values or the values of those who welcomed me and my family to Virginia.”
Republican leaders, including Delegates Tim Hugo, Todd Gilbert, Greg Habeeb, and Manoli Loupassi, as well as Pete Snyder, who sought the 2013 GOP nomination for Lt. Governor, have called on Governor Terry McAuliffe to refuse to allow Syrian refugees to resettle in Virginia.
Over a dozen governors, all Republicans, announced this week their intentions to reject the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their states. Multiple sources have noted neither governors nor states have the authority to prohibit individuals from crossing their borders, raising questions as to the goal of conservative grandstanding on the backs of refugees.