How You Can Help Aya, The Refugee Featured On Humans Of New York, Achieve Her American Dream
In just five years, Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York blog has become a cultural phenomenon, with more than 16 million followers on Facebook. Until recently, however, the blog had only featured residents of New York City, as its name suggests, but in September, Stanton partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and traveled abroad to cover refugees of war. One story in particular, of a young Iraqi refugee named Aya, resonated in particular as proof that refugees are not threats. HONY has started a petition for refugee Aya on Change.org, which has already garnered more than 800,000 signatures, and here's why you should consider signing, too.
Like many refugees, Aya's story is heartbreaking, and at times feels hopeless. War seemed to follow her and her family around wherever they went. First, they fled their home country of Iraq after the U.S. invaded and war started ravaging everything around her (Aya watched her childhood friend Miriam get blown up in front of her). Aya and her family relocated to Syria to escape the violence, but it soon caught up to them. She describes on HONY's Facebook page:
Things were going so well [in Syria]. My father was working as a driver. We were very comfortable. Then war came to Syria. It began for me as a bomb threat at our school. Then people began killing each other in the street. I was studying one afternoon, and I looked out the window, and a man smashed another man's head with a stone. Right in front of me. Our landlord told us: "I am leaving the country. Everyone must go." So again we became refugees.
After fleeing Syria, they settled in Turkey, where life started out decent, but as more refugees began flooding in, the residents of Turkey began turning on them.
Now people shout at us in the streets. They tell us to leave. But we have nowhere to go. ... We've had to switch apartments four times because our landlord decided that Arabic people are no longer allowed. I've been hit by a car. My sister got hit in the face at school and lost two teeth, and now her vision is bad in one eye. Being a refugee is really hard. They blame us for everything. ... And if war ever comes to Turkey, we'll be the first to die. Because they'll blame us for that too.
But perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the story is not all the violence and persecution Aya and her family have endured, but the moment they really felt their hopes crushed, not by the hostile environment they were in, but by America. Aya and her family reapplied for resettlement in the U.S., waiting with bated breath for months, until their application was finally accepted.
We started dancing and crying and kissing each other. A new life! The United States! We couldn't believe it! Over the next few weeks I spent so much time on the computer. I searched for schools for my brother and sisters. I found the university I wanted to study in. I found a hospital for my mother. I was searching for jobs for my father. I had everything planned.
But their joy was short-lived because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services then sent them a letter saying their application had been rejected due to "security related reasons."
It was like a nightmare.
It is this moment in Aya's story that Stanton hopes to direct everyone's attentions to, including President Obama. On the "Let's Bring Aya To America" page on Change.org, Stanton writes directly to Obama:
We believe America's rejection of Aya is a mistake. She is in the process of filing an appeal, and we'd like to invite you to personally learn her story and lend your voice to our advocacy on her behalf.
Stanton points out that not only is Aya not a threat to the U.S., but that she and her family have a genuine love for our country. In her story, Aya writes:
Our family loved America. My father always told me about America. He made us go talk to American soldiers during the war. Other people were afraid of Americans, but he told us they were here to help us and not to be afraid of them. He told us that America was a place where so many different people lived in peace. So many religions. So many communities. We loved America!
On Dec. 9, President Obama personally responded to another HONY post about a scientist and Syrian refugee who lost five members of his family in the war. Hopefully, Obama will be moved by Aya's story as well and help with her appeal process. In the meantime, you can help rebuild Aya's dream of a better life for her and her family by signing the petition on Change.org. As of press time, the campaign still needed about 182,000 signatures to reach its goal of 1 million. You, too, can be a friend of Aya, and in turn, show your support of refugees everywhere.
Image: Humans of New York/Facebook