'Syrians are not terrorists,' refugee tells America

The Roustoms were the first of just four Syrian families to be resettled in Jersey City, a city of 262,000 where around 41 percent of the population is foreign born.

PTI| Updated: Nov 20, 2015, 23:52 PM IST

Jersey City: Hussam al-Roustom lost everything in Syria. After fleeing the horrors of war, he's working 12-hour night shifts in a bakery, learning English and watching his children flourish in America.

After resettling in Jersey City as a refugee, he now has a message for the country that gave him a second chance.

"Syrians are not terrorists," he told reporters, speaking on the same day that the House of Representatives voted to ban Syrian and Iraqi refugees from entering the United States without tougher screening measures.

It was the first legislative response to last week's terror attacks in Paris over fears that one of the attackers may have entered Europe by posing as a Syrian migrant.

Syrian refugees have become a political football in US election season, with Republicans determined to stop President Barack Obama's pledge to resettle 10,000 in the coming year.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill and accuses Republicans of "hysteria." Republicans defend the measure as a common-sense necessity after extremists slaughtered 129 people in Paris.

"The Syrian people like to work, they want to live... they yearn for a better freedom, a better opportunity," Roustom said.

"They are the ones who are fleeing from terrorists, they're not going to... Create terrorism in another country."

Since October 2011, America has admitted fewer than 2,180 Syrian refugees. Turkey has taken in two million, Lebanon more than one million and Jordan more than 500,000.

The Roustoms were the first of just four Syrian families to be resettled in Jersey City, a city of 262,000 where around 41 percent of the population is foreign born.

At least 27 US state governors oppose taking in further Syrians. The issue burst into ugly view this week when a vetted family of three was rerouted out of Indiana, and sent to Connecticut.

But the resettlement program, overseen by the federal government, goes on.

"At this moment in time, it's business as usual," said Mahmoud Mahmoud, director of the Church World Service, the local agency in charge in Jersey City.

He is frustrated by the fear mongering. US refugee vetting is already the most stringent in the world, taking on average 12 to 24 months for various federal agencies to approve each person.

Roustom said his family trekked four and a half hours through the desert to Jordan, when they realized they could no longer survive.