Chicago greets Syrian refugees with open arms

Gigi Wade, News Reporter

A new home.

For Syrian refugee families, this fall has meant more than a World Series win or a presidential election.

In 2011, the first waves of refugees fled Syria in search of asylum and protection from the merciless rule of their dictator, Bashar Al-Assad. The countries immediately surrounding Syria had a decision to make as refugees asked for shelter: open their borders, or shut refugees out.

As the crisis escalated, countries all around the world began to set quotas for admission of refugees, including the United States. This year, President Obama has pledged to grant at least 10,000 people residency.

According to an article from the Chicago Tribune, in 2015, the number of Syrian refugees resettled in Chicago was about three times greater than in 2014, increasing from 24 to 62.

“Chicago is somewhere that they’re trying to go because their own country is in a terrible situation. To deny them access to our city is unfair,” sophomore Gia Clark said.

At Evanston, students recognize the importance of accepting these new citizens into the United States.

“Chicago has been the center of cultural mixing since it was established,” junior Posey Cohen said. “Little Italy and Little India are examples of this.”

Despite Chicago’s rich history of welcoming people from war-torn countries, the resettlement process is difficult for Syrians and the community alike. Thankfully, programs in Chicago help ease families into the neighborhood and make the transition from their home less taxing.

The largest of these programs is RefugeeOne, a 34-year-old institution for immigration services.

“RefugeeOne provides housing for refugees when they arrive and works with the families to get them acclimated to life in America,” RefugeeOne coordinator Kim Snoddy said. “The ultimate goal of the organization is to get the refugees to a point where they’re self-reliant.”

RefugeeOne helps register refugee children for school, and provides English classes to overcome the language barrier, as well as assistance in the process of searching for jobs.

Despite the shown efficacy of the program, there are many barriers to successful resettlement and a fruitful life for Syrian refugees. Some Evanston students explain that regardless of the general lack of outward xenophobia at school, not everyone in the Chicagoland area is willing to integrate refugees into the community.

“Unfortunately, there will be some people that don’t accept refugees. I want them to be safe and welcome,” junior Josh O’Steen said. “My concern is that they’ll be treated in a negative way.”

The global issues around refugees have not deterred the many families who welcome them through volunteering and sponsorship.

“I know that there are some negative feelings in the community towards refugees,” Snoddy said. “Despite those feelings, we have a record number of people that want to get involved because they don’t think that oppression in Syria is right.”

RefugeeOne is an accessible program for teens with a wonderful goal. Visit to the RefugeeOne website and explore the countless ways to get involved in the resettlement process for Syrian refugees.