By Marwa Benahmed-Ali
Khaled Alkurdi, 22, a DCCC business administration major who has transferred to Temple, was 18 when he and his family left Syria for the United States.
Alkurdi was preparing for his final exams when the Assad regime was strengthening in his hometown of Damascus, prompting fear among himself and family, he said.
“Damascus was protected by the regime but there were explosions and helicopters,” Alkurdi said. “I was afraid to leave my house because I wasn’t sure if explosives would kill me or not.”
Because homes and shops were being destroyed by the Assad regime, he said, explosions would wake Alkurdi and his family every night.
According to Alkurdi, his family became more concerned about their safety when the Syrian army invaded their home.
“My brother and I were hanging out on our rooftop and listening to [Syrian] anti- Assad Regime music,” Alkurdi said. “Four soldiers slammed our door open and had AK-47’s. We had to hide our phones from them or we would be arrested and possibly tortured for being against the regime.”
Alkurdi said there was a torture house close to his neighborhood where Syrian spies, called the Mukhabarat, violently apprehended civilians against the regime. Methods of torture included whipping, electrocution, and death, Alkurdi said.
“The army continued to stop me everywhere,” Alkurdi said. “The army always asked for my ID and cell phone, but they were so illiterate that they had no idea what they were reading.”
His terror in Damascus grew stronger. Everyday, Alkurdi received news that family and friends were being killed by the regime, including his beloved Arabic teacher’s son.
“One day, my teacher came to class with red eyes and messy hair,” Alkurdi said. “I asked him if he was ok and then tears started rolling down his face. At that point I didn’t know what to say.”
Alkurdi’s professor told him his son was burned alive in an explosion in a Syrian town called Daria.
“His son just finished dental school and was getting married soon,” Alkurdi said. “It broke my heart even more when my teacher told me I reminded him of his son.”
When Alkurdi came to the United States in 2011, he said he felt sad and angry that his country was falling to pieces.
“I didn’t like the idea of moving because my whole life belongs in Syria,” Alkurdi said. “There’s one thing having a house, but having a home is way different.”
Alkurdi said he tried to not lose hope of improvement in Syria, but his cousin, a soldier fighting against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), told him the crisis was getting worse.
“My cousin told me ISIS, or Daech as we call them in Arabic, are trying to form a new Islamic State by exterminating people that aren’t devout Muslims,” Alkurdi said. “He told me that they’re the most inhumane people on the planet, that they decapitatemen’sheadsiftheyshavetheir beard.”
Alkurdi said he saw a graphic picture of a good friend on his Facebook, whose body was burned in an explosion.
“Seeing a person die in pain is bad but why did she, or any of the other people, deserve to die?” Alkurdi said. “The regime wanted their people to live, not us, meaning the people against the regime. I’ve lost my friends, my family, my life, and my home —Syria.”
Alkurdi is not alone in his fears about his country being destroyed. According to the United Nations, 12 million Syrians have fled from their homes, since the outbreak of civil war in 2011.
The humanitarian organization Mercy Corps reports Syria’s civil war is the worst humanitarian disaster of our time, with more than 12 million Syrians displaced and 240,000 killed.
In March of 2011, anti-government demonstrations began as a part of the Arab Spring. Syrians experienced violent crackdowns from the Assad Regime, according to World Vision, an organization that is helping 2 million displaced refugees.
According to Mercy Corps, the free Syrian Army and other Syrian Civilians, took up arms to join the opposition. Division between ethnic and political groups created more complications in Syria.
Now, ISIS has stirred more trouble in Syria, killing minority groups such as the Kurdish and Yazidi, U.N. reports.
According to the U.N., ISIS has killed 24,000 Syrians and has taken control of dozens of towns.
The United Nations Refugee Agency, Government of Turkey (UNHCR) states that only 2.l million refugees have registered with UNHCR in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, and Lebanon. Nearly 2 million Syrians registered in Turkey, and 26,700 in North Africa.
According to UNHCR Australia, 440,000 refugees have dangerously crossed the Mediterranean to tiny islands in Greece and Italy.
Three thousand men, women, and children have been drowned or lost by crossing the Mediterranean.
Syrian refugees have also fled to Hungary, Austria, and Germany.
According to the European Commision, Germany, which has been a popular destination for Syrians, will accept 800,000 refugees. France also vowed to take in 24,000 refugees in the next two years.
But today, 7.6 million Syrians are still internally displaced, according to Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
More than 50 percent of children are affected by the brutal four-year-war, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Children have been put at risk by extreme violence, destroyed schools, crumbling infrastructure, and food shortages.
“Millions of children inside Syria and across the region are witnessing their past and their futures disappear amid the rubble and destruction of this prolonged conflict,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “We must rescue them from the brink, for their sake and for the sake of Syria in future generations.”
According to World Vision, Syrian refugees are at risk of becoming ill, malnourished, abused, or exploited. Refugees are in dire need of food, clothing, health assistance, and basic hygiene products.
With so many refugees, The World Food Program recently cut a third of food assistance. Camps are also running out of space for refugees, according to UNHCR.
Alkurdi said he was tired of hearing his fellow Syrians suffering from the crisis. “Everyday, I receive depressing phone calls,” Alkurdi said. “Someone dying, someone’s home destroyed, someone starving.”
Alkurdi said he was motivated to take action about the crisis. He decided to be a member of various organizations that send food and clothing to refugees.
“I’m a part of many organizations, including the Syrian American Council and Sawsia,” Alkurdi said.
Alkurdi added he was mostly active in the Narenj Tree Foundation where his uncle Nizar Alkurdi is the founder and president.
“We’ve sent 12 containers of goods to Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan,” Alkurdi said. “We don’t send any to Syria because you can’t guarantee what’s going to happen to the container.”
Luis Lopez, 19, an engineering major at DCCC, helps Alkurdi collect food and clothing.
“We collect canned goods, and dry beans,”Lopezsaid.“Wealsopersonallygo to people’s homes to collect goods.”
Alkurdi said that his uncle opened a warehouse in Norristown where he stores donated goods.
“We collect donations every Saturday from 10-2,” Alkurdi said. “Once containers are full, we will send them immediately. I also went to an event in New York City, called NYC Solidarity with Syrian Refugees, on September 12, to get our government to bring in refugees.”
Alkurdi said he urges everyone to sign the petition to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees in the United States. The petition requires 100,000 signatures by 2016 and 101,506 have already signed the petition.
“It’s really not about the politics anymore,” Alkurdi said. “We’re just doing it for peace.”