Syrian refugees share their stories

By Olivia Sullivan - Staff Reporter

While many people only see the bombings in Syria on the news, some Highline students have experienced those attacks firsthand.

On Tuesday, Highline held a film and discussion forum about the war in Syria. Several Highline refugee students from the Middle East spoke about the war and its effects on their lives.

The discussion portion of the event began with a moment of silence to honor those who have died because of the war and also to take a moment to pray for the people who are still living in the Syrian nightmare.

A panel of seven men sat before the crowd, all of Syrian descent. Some of the men have lived in the United States for years; some had only been here for as little as four months.

Over the next hour, the men spoke about the misconceptions of the Syrian war and their painful experiences living through it.

"As many of the Syrian student refugees have stated, the Syrian revolution was a spin off of the Arab Spring, revolutions and tumbled governments in Egypt and Libya," said Highline Professor Oussama Alkhalili.

Alkhalili is Lebanese and left Lebanon at the age of 21. He lived through the Syrian invasion of Lebanon for six years and has been in the United States for 35 years.

Although there was a slight language barrier, there was a clear understanding of the emotional impact this film and discussion had.

Between the audience and the speakers in the room, many people teared up at moments during the presentation due to the emotionally intense subject.

"War is trouble, I do not wish people to see the death," said Ahmen Abdul Ghafor, a Highline student.

Ghafor lived in Syria for seven years and has been in the United States for four years. He is studying computer science at Highline.

"When I was there, I was waiting the death because I [did] not know what would happen to me and my family," he said. "During the war, we stayed at home, not a lot of food, no power. [There were] so many bad things – fear, worry, depression, death. One thing gave us the hope is God."

A graph projected onto the screen showed who is responsible for the deaths of Syrian civilians.

Russia is credited for 1 percent, with 1,984 deaths. Isis is 1.1 percent, totaling 2,196 deaths. The Syrian Rebels are responsible for 1.5 percent of deaths, 2,959 in total.

The Al-Assad Regime is responsible for 94.7 percent of the total civilian deaths, which is more than 183,827 people between 2011 and 2016.

"For a long time, the regime has been synonymous with torture," said Shon Meckfessel, an English professor at Highline.

The the Al-Assad regime, the rebels, and Isis are political groups that are fighting for power within the Middle East.

There are conflicting ideas about how the war began.

"The president [Bashar al-Assad] was appointed; it was a mock election," said Alkhalili. "He was not elected, the people had no say. It is a dictatorship."

Due to the tight control of the government, Syrian people have little to no freedom, the panel said.

The three demands that sparked the Syrian protest were to have freedom, social justice, and dignity, said Meckfessel.

"When we say we want freedom, we mean freedom of choice," said Alkhalili.

The first six months of the Syrian protests were peaceful, said Osama Shams Eddin, a Syrian speaker. Then the regime sent intelligence agents into the protests to pretend to be a part of it, but these spies had ulterior, violent motives.

In March of 2011, this violent protesting steadily grew into more severe attacks nationwide that carried on for the next five years.

The government wants to portray these attacks as a civil war between [political] groups, said a Syrian speaker.

"The war in Syria did not start violently," Alkhalili said. "The government blamed it on the protesters. The government was successful in making it seem like this is a civil war."

More than 5 percent of the population is employed as "secret police" said Meckfessel. These people are hired by the government to be spies. The spies look for any signs of disrespect or disloyalty from the citizens toward the government.

"It makes you second guess all of your relationships and intimacies," said Meckfessel.

A member from the audience asked the panel if they would return to Syria one day.

A few of the men said yes, they would absolutely go back to Syria once there is a new government in place.

"I truly believe the fabricated civil war in Syria would come to a quick end if Iran, Hezbollah, United States, and Saudi Arabia stop meddling in Syria's domestic affairs," Alkhalili said. "I honestly believe the people of Syria are peaceful people where they had lived together in peace for hundreds of years."

But a few of the speakers disagreed and said there is no way to go back to Syria, there is no hope for the country after the war.

"Who made that jet? Who made that bomb? It was America and Russian. No one else," said an Afghan student from the crowd.

In the first half of the event, the film The White Helmets was shown. This documentary about Syrian civil defense volunteers shows the heartbreaking reality of rebel-controlled Syria during the war.

"What we saw on screen…that is what happens almost every day," said Syrian speaker, Osama Shams Eddin, about the devastating damage by the bombing.

Although people have access to information about the war, it is not always correctly portrayed, Ghafor said.

"I believe that the social media doesn't cover the reality over there. The government kills a lot of people every day and no one stops it," he said. "In my opinion, If one human [is] killed, there is no humanity in this world."

"I only hope that you make them feel welcome and let them be part of our community," Alkhalili said. "With the outcome of the recent US elections, many Muslims and Arabs, in particularly Syrian refugees, feel that they become a target for backlash of racism and hate."

Students need to know the truth and not just the media's representation, Ghafor said.

"People over there do not need food or money, they only want [their] voices and words [to be heard]," he said.

For more information about the war, how to donate, or for documentaries similar to The White Helmets, visit

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