Syrian Refugees Adjust to Life in Connecticut

NBC Connecticut's Troubleshooters checked in with some refugees who are optimistic about life in America despite the challenges they face.

“I am a pharmacist,” said Aisha Alzobi. “I came from Syria one month ago through Jordan with my husband and three sons and one daughter.”

Alzobi is one of about 150 Syrians who have relocated in Connecticut since last July.

In Alzobi’s native country, millions of Syrians are fleeing their war-torn homeland.

“We lose everything,” said Alzobi. “Country is destruction. There is no safe. No electricity. No water.”

Alzobi and other Syrian refugees said they are thankful for the new opportunities they have been given in the United States. They also said they were thankful for the financial assistance they have been given.

While grateful, they aren't looking for charity.

“We want to work and we want to give a good image about Muslims,” Alzobi explained. “Muslims are kind people, peaceful people.”

Overcoming the negative image of Muslims is a priority for some refugees who feel that fear of their culture can be a barrier to fitting in and thriving.

With the help of her translator, Ghoufran Allababidi, Syrian refugee Fatima Zatar talked about the effects Islamaphobia has on her.

“The governor of Indiana, he doesn't welcome them and he doesn't want them in his state so they had to come to Connecticut,” Ghoufran said as she conveyed  Zatar's words. Zatar said they weren’t able to get off the airplane, because they had learned they would not be accepted in Indiana.

However, Zatar said she had renewed hope when Governor Dannel Malloy welcomed them with open arms.

She realized for the first time that there are people who will refuse them, but on the other hand, there are people who will love them to be here,” said Zatar via her translator.

But now that she is in Connecticut, Zatar hopes to land a job, despite her lack of English.

Islamic community organizers said men have an easier time being accepted in America than woman, because the women keep their hair covered and dress noticeably different as part of their religion. 

Chris George is the director of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS). The organization helps refugees settle in, and teaches them skills they'll need to survive in the American once their initial assistance runs out. He stressed the need to learn English and adapt to the American culture.

To refugees, differences in culture can be triggers for anxiety, George said. For example, a group of joggers hitting the pavement to get in shape can cause alarm, as in Syria and other warn-torn countries, running signals danger.

But George said the biggest hurdle for refugees is money. The United States government gives refugees a one-time Welcome to America grant of $1000 per person and that doesn’t last long.

“We put that toward their rent and most of that is spent over the first few months,” said George. “We need to supplement that with private funding to stretch out that adjustment period, so that they can learn English and get a job.”

George also said they really don’t help refugees beyond six months.

Although the transition is tough, it’s rewarding.

“They're thrilled to be in a place where they're not going to be shot at, where their children aren’t going to be kidnapped,” said George.

Afghanistan Refugee Fazila Mansoori knows first-hand what conditions some Syrians are up against and left behind. She came to the U.S. just one year ago. Mansoori now works for IRIS helping people like her adapt.

She thinks coming to America is the best thing that's ever happened to her.

“Here I have the people respect me. People like me,” said Mansoori, proudly sharing her story. “My country people, and also in Pakistan, they see the woman as nothing. Women are nothing. Here I really found my real life.”

Mansoori said it took six years for her to get in to America. Getting refugee status in the U.S. is a slow process.

George explained the rigorous background check conducted on refugees has greatly impacted the influx of Syrian refugees to the United States.

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