Ruba Akkad

Sometimes I’ll walk by a bakery and suddenly smell Syria again.

I can still smell the chocolate croissants from the bakery down the alley from my family’s home in Souk Sarouja, an old neighborhood right outside of Old Damascus. I can still hear the seemingly orchestrated sound of 30 taxicabs honking all at once. I can still hear my neighbors’ feet pounding on the pavement as they play soccer in the street, screaming in their distinct Arabic accents.

Now take the people behind these memories, the bakery owner, the taxicab drivers, the kids playing soccer in the street, and imagine them as a number. The UN reports that more than 10.6 million Syrians have either been killed or displaced.

Imagine having to leave behind your entire family and the only home you’ve ever known at the fragile age of 17. Then imagine having to travel to a country you’ve never been to all alone with just the clothes on your back. Imagine the whole world watching you on this trek, writing you down as a number, trying to decide if your life is worth granting asylum in the next five years.

That is what my 17-year-old cousin Ali is going through. That is all he has to look back on for his teenage years.

The war in Syria has been going on since early 2011 and has only exponentially gotten worse with the eyes of the world watching but not actively responding. Of all nations accepting Syrian refugees, the United States has the leading Gross Domestic Product of $17.4 trillion in comparison to developing countries such as Turkey ($800 billion), Lebanon ($46 billion), Jordan ($36 billion) and Germany ($3,853 billion), who have accepted the majority of refugees and who rank distinctly lower than the U.S. According to CNN, the United States has resettled about 1,500 Syrian refugees since 2011, amounting to only 0.03 percent of Syria’s 4.1 million refugees abroad.

As a nation, we need to increase these numbers even more than President Barack Obama’s proposed 10,000 refugees to at least 65,000 in the next fiscal year.

Beyond a moral obligation, some may ask “What’s in it for the United States?” According to the Washington Post, by complementing American workers rather than competing with them, Syrian refugees will not “take our jobs,” but actually help the economy grow because of their background in labor and task specialization. Refugees are desperate. They want safety, not handouts.

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