Sana’s Story: A 24-Year-Old Syrian Refugee Fights To Reunite Her Family
November's terrorist attacks in Paris precipitated an ugly cycle that's become the norm in recent American history.
Fear and xenophobia led to the rise of opportunists willing to perpetuate each for personal gain.
The current targets: Syrian refugees.
The current beneficiary: There's the temptation to say Donald Trump, but he’s hardly singular. After all, 31 governors opposed allowing refugees into their states.
Ironically, we started filming our take on the Syrian refugee crisis a month earlier. Our subject, Sana Mustafa, was an activist in the Arab Spring and now represents one of fewer than 3,000 Syrian refugees in the US. Having arrived penniless in 2013, she earned a full scholarship to Bard College where she speaks out on behalf of fellow refugees in her spare time.
Her resume alone seemed to provide a strong counterargument to a then-popular suggestion that refugees, if admitted en masse, would leech off American society. Moreover, her story itself, while providing a chilling overview of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the inner workings of the Arab Spring, brought with it unexpected familiarities.
Poughkeepsie, New York reminded Sana of her hometown in Syria.
She learned English by watching “Grey's Anatomy” and “Friends.” Her parents raised her to appreciate Syrian culture, though they encouraged variety, especially in terms of political perspectives. She had a pulse on the injustices perpetuated by the government and was inspired to put beliefs into actions.
Thus, in 2011, with the Syrian uprising against the authoritarian regime of Assad, it was inevitable Sana and her entire family would join the revolution. Perhaps just as inevitable was Assad's response to the revolution: arrests, torture, barrel bombs and, notably, the use of chemical weapons.
Sana was imprisoned. So was her older sister. Both were held temporarily, but the family would experience far worse. In July 2013, Sana's father was abducted with no trace of his whereabouts.
Their safety jeopardized, her mother and two sisters fled to neighboring Turkey, leaving their belongings, friends and extended family behind. Sana — who was traveling to the United States for what was supposed to be a few weeks — suddenly found herself without a home and was granted political asylum.
Through a certain lens, Sana's subsequent time in America proves it to be a land of opportunity. Having achieved a full scholarship, a green card and a support network, Sana is incredibly deferential when it comes to the people who helped her regain her footing in the US. Her improved station earned her a sizable platform to speak on behalf of refugees without fear of reprisals.
On the other hand, such an ongoing fight places Sana at constant odds with America's dark underbelly barring foreigners — and, effectively, her family members still in Turkey — from entering the US.
Anti-refugee rhetoric might have tapered in the mainstream, but statistics prove the counteracting mechanisms aren't loosening. Last September, the US pledged to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees within a year. As of March 1, 2016, only about 2,700 have been resettled, far below the projected rate.
Ultimately, it's a missed opportunity — less for refugees than for America. Economists have proved an influx of refugees will improve a nation's GDP. With talent filtered to all countries except America, the United States’ position is akin to an NFL team voluntarily sitting out the draft.
This spring, Sana will be attending She Entrepreneurs in Sweden, a program seeking to empower Middle Eastern women in their entrepreneurial efforts. Whether or not she bases her projects in the United States, this video is merely the first act of her life.