Taking Refuge

A Reminder to Give Thanks this Thanksgiving

The interview for this story was conducted in Arabic and kindly translated by Oula Abdulhamid Alrifai, an analyst at the Navanti Group and participant in Taking Refuge.

November 23, 2015

In the aftermath and lead up to the recent attacks in Paris, I've had the privilege to speak with several Syrian refugees. These latest coordinated acts of terror in the Western world have spurred increased controversy over refugee resettlement. But as these women welcome me into a private - and often frightening - part of their lives, sharing memories that many of us would rather bury if they were ours, I can't help but hang my head in shame at my nation. The United States has one of the strictest systems regulating refugees entering the country. The vetting process for Syrian refugees in particular takes between 18 and 24 months on average due to additional layers of security screening.

As we head into Thanksgiving, please take a moment to remember that even the Pilgrims were once refugees. I encourage you to read and share the following story and perhaps try out *Amira's kibbeh recipe at your Thanksgiving table this year.

Amira and her family left Talbiseh on February 27, 2012 to seek safety at her sister's house in a nearby Syrian town. A stronghold of the Syrian opposition, Talbiseh has been a constant target of the regime's shelling and barrel bombs. Amira's home was destroyed, along with nearly all her possessions. Although they didn't live extravagantly, the family had been well off compared to many other Syrians. Now, Amira had only the clothes on her back and her family.

Amira's journey was supposed to end at her sister's house. But when a sniper shot her ten-year-old son on the way there, she knew her sister's home wasn't far enough away from the conflict. Her son survived, having only needed stitches, but Amira understood that luck wouldn't always be in their favor.

So with her husband, two sons, and three daughters packed into their car, the family drove north. For three long hours, they heard regime airstrikes erupting around them, never knowing if they'd be hit. Throughout the drive, they passed through seven checkpoints. At each they were questioned and searched. Fear permeated the family as they repeatedly insisted they were visiting friends in the North.

And, it wasn't completely untrue. Amira and her family reached the Kurdish town of Afrin, where they really did have friends. There, they stayed for eight days while they made preparations to cross the border into Turkey.

There wasn't much choice when it came to crossing the Syrian-Turkish border. Only Amira's husband held a passport, so like so many other refugees, Amira and her family picked the least of many unenviable options: to proceed with smugglers.

On June 18, 2012, Amira and her family left Afrin for the border town of Tell Rifaat, where the Free Syrian Army helped smuggle them into Turkey. But the price was significant: the five-minute car ride across the border cost 3,500 Syrian Lira, a large sum of money for a Syrian family.

Of course, like many mothers, Amira would do anything for her family. The price might have made her gasp, but safety was invaluable.

So, in the middle of the night, Amira, her husband, and children walked through a grove of olive trees to reach the smuggler's car. They were told to be absolutely silent as they traversed the pitch dark along with numerous other refugees also seeking safety. Amira recalls the short walk as absolutely "traumatizing," each step bringing more fear that the Turkish police would catch them.

But, "Thank God," said Amira, she and her family arrived safely in Turkey, where they lived in an apartment in the city of Reyhanli for two years before coming to America. The resettlement process was painstakingly long. However, since arriving in Texas almost a year ago, Amira has been overwhelmed by support from the International Rescue Committee and the Syrian-American community. Her husband, once a talented urban planner, is now working in a car repair shop. "It's the only thing available right now," she says. As for Amira, she stays home and takes care of her autistic son - her child who had suffered the sniper attack three years earlier.

Amira gives thanks to those who helped her and her family seek refuge. On this Thanksgiving, I urge you to remember what you are thankful for too. Be grateful for what you have and think of those less fortunate, such as the 4.3 million Syrian refugees fleeing war in search of peace.

*This name has been changed to protect the individual's identity.

Frying up the kibbeh

Kibbeh, hot and ready to eat!


I'm happy to introduce Taking Refuge's second kibbeh recipe!

For the Shell:

  • 1 kg of bulgur (soft)
  • 1/2 kg of ground beef
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • Salt
  • 2 spoonfuls of dried red pepper

For the Stuffing:

  • 1/2 kg of ground beef
  • Black pepper
  • Dried red pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped

  1. To make the shell: Wash the bulgur with cold water then put it in the meat grinder with the onion, salt, and dried red pepper. Combine this with the ground meet and then put everything back in the meat grinder. You may add some water to the mixture to soften in.
  2. To make the stuffing: Combine all ingredients together in a pan over medium-high heat until it is fully cooked.
  3. Form balls with the shell mixture and stuff each ball with the stuffing mixture.
  4. Fry the kibbeh balls on medium-high heat in vegetable oil until the color becomes golden-brown.
  5. Remove the kibbeh balls from the frying pan and place them on a towel to absorb the extra oil before serving.
  6. Serve with yogurt and cucumber sauce or with green salsa.