Syrian refugee crisis hits close to home for MTSU engineering professor

Saleh Sbenaty, professor of computer engineering technology, is not unlike other people in Murfreesboro. He has a good job, a home, a loving family and enjoys the peace and quiet of Middle Tennessee.

Yet, his mind is elsewhere.

Sbenaty’s family on the other side of the world are daily afraid for their very lives.

ETIS faculty Saleh Sbenaty.
Saleh Sbenaty.

Millions of other Syrians are like them, as everyday more and more refugees flee their country and make the harrowing journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe.

Sbenaty’s nephew was one of them. He was living in Turkey after escaping the Syrian conflict, but decided to go into Europe. The first several times he attempted to cross the Mediterranean he failed; once the boat even capsized.

Yet, he kept trying and finally made it into Greece. Now, like many other refugees, he has settled in Sweden. Not all refugees have been so lucky. Many have drowned or suffered disease and hunger to try to enter into what they feel is a better life.

“These people don’t want to leave their homes,” Sbenaty said. “They would go back if they could, but they just want to live. Syria and Iraq are the cradle of history—5,000 years back – now they are forced to leave their countries.”

Countries like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey are suffering greatly because the refugees are overwhelming. They can’t provide the jobs and other basic needs for the Syrians, so they have to go somewhere.

Turkey alone has taken in the bulk of Syrian refugees, a number that is at least 4 million. They haven’t had time to build schools and other infrastructure, leaving 400,000 children out of school according to Al Jazeera.

Therefore, according Sbenaty, while Turkey should not be criticized, this leaves Syrian refugees with no other choice but to leave the country.

Europe is just as ill prepared to receive them, and even resists them coming in, partly because they feel if they allow Syrians in other countries will follow. This is coming true, according to Sbenaty, as people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and North Africa enter Europe, many pretending to be Syrian.

At the same time, countries in Eastern Europe are worried about the changing demographics and Muslims overtaking Christian nations. Countries in the Middle East, according to Sbenaty have not accepted any refugees into their borders.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has strict conditions for giving VISAS. That means Syrians cannot come into the country as refugees. Instead, Saudi Arabia has sent food and tents to refugee camps, Sbenaty explains.

According to Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia has taken in 500,000 refugees, and Huffington Post stated even as much as 2.5 million. Sbenaty, along with other Arabs, argue, however, that these Syrians were already there, or their friends or family helped them get in. Sbenaty does not even believe they were helped in.

“I visited Kuwait two weeks ago,” Sbenaty said. “And a friend of mine was there. He said he tried to bring his mother from Syria, and she could not even come because of the strict VISA laws.”

Finally, after four years the US has stated they will be receiving 10,000 refugees, a number that seems small to Sbenaty.

“US has opened its borders to refugees many times throughout history,” Sbenaty said. “Why does it hesitate in the case of Syria?”

Sbenaty goes on to say the process to allow Syrians into the country is so tedious that many people may opt out of coming because it will take so long.

Middle Tennessee itself has welcomed about 13 families in the past year, Sbenaty said. He, along with the help of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, is working hard to make sure they have food, homes and jobs as they start their new life in the US.

New Info: In regards to what happened in Paris, Sbenaty said if Europe closes its doors the US cannot just stand back and watch the Syrian refugees die.

“It is heartbreaking to see that many innocent civilians slaughtered by the so-called ISIS,” Sbenaty said in regards to France. “The truth is, Syrians have been subjected to terrorist attacks by ISIS, militia groups such as Hazballah and the Iranian militia and attacks from the Syrian government.”

Sbenaty said all lives are equal and we should find ways to preserve and protect those lives.

“Syrians have been suffering, being slaughtered for four years now, they wanted a way out,” Sbenaty said. “The way out was to flood the countries around Syria… Now there is no hope. Where can they go?”

When referring to lawmakers wanting to keep out Syrian refugees, Sbenaty said they make it sound like US is just letting all the refugees in the country.

“We aren’t opening the floodgates,” he said.

Instead, Sbenaty believes the lawmakers have an agenda, not to keep Tennessee safe but to scare people into believing Islam is a religion of terror. Tennessee is the Volunteer State, he said, always been hospitable and welcoming, but lawmakers are changing that image.

People can help Syrians who come into the area by donating money and food and becoming involved with organizations who help refugees, according to Sbenaty.

“If we educate ourselves and become aware of the problem as a real problem and not something remote on the other side of the world, we will be more willing to help these people settle in,” Sbenaty said.

Sbenaty said the conflict is not going away anytime soon. In fact, the country won’t be back on its feet for 50 years at least.

“Areas of the country have been bombed over and over again,” Sbenaty said. “It’s just not there anymore. The middle of Damascus, where the regime still controls is intact. Otherwise, whole cities have been wiped out.

“Some days it’s hard even to call my family, because it’s nothing but bad news. To see the streets and places you grew up in gone, it takes something away from you.”

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