Fort Worth

Syrian crisis inspires Fort Worth teens to help refugees

In this Oct. 4, 2015 file photo, a Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father's arms while waiting at a resting point to board a bus, after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos.
In this Oct. 4, 2015 file photo, a Syrian refugee child sleeps in his father's arms while waiting at a resting point to board a bus, after arriving on a dinghy from the Turkish coast to the northeastern Greek island of Lesbos. AP

Kalkidan Alemu came to North Texas from Yemen and understands the challenges refugees face.

That’s why she is helping people who fled to the United States to get away from forced displacement, political unrest or civil wars in their homelands.

Alemu, 16, a junior at Everman High School and president of Fort Worth Youth International, came to the United States at age 6 with her parents. Her father was originally from Ethiopia but was forced to live in exile in Yemen after a regime change.

“In the very beginning, it was very hard to adapt,” she said, explaining that learning English is a difficult barrier to overcome. “Once I was enrolled in school, I was able to learn it.”

Now, Alemu and fellow members of Fort Worth Youth International are working with Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth to help refugees moving to North Texas. The youth group, which is affiliated with Fort Worth Sister Cities International, recently helped furnish an apartment for an Iraqi family forced to flee their homeland.

The community service project developed as the young people in the organization discussed the Syrian refugee crisis, which has displaced millions of people from their homes. Syrians have fled their homeland because of a civil war and the oppressive presence of the Islamic State militant group, or ISIS. There are an estimated 4.8 million Syrian refugees, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

“This is a huge human crisis of our time,” said Manochehr Dorraj, professor of political science at TCU. “Civil War in Syria has literally led to displacement of upward of 10 million people. These are the people who are victims of terrorism they are trying to fight.”

‘Trying to find a safe haven’

In recent months, when people turn attention to refugees, they think of Syria.

The plight of Syrian refugees touched many hearts in September, when a photograph of a drowned 3-year-old Syrian child made international news.

“We saw the headlines,” Alemu said, alluding to the little boy’s picture. “We wanted to do something.”

Syrians have lost loved ones, homes and jobs to civil war and terrorism, Dorraj said. The issue is at the center of a community conversation on refugees that will be held Thursday at Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus. The free event is organized by Fort Worth Sister Cities International and will include an overview of refugee resettlement in Fort Worth.

Dorraj said he will offer historical background so people can better understand the issues surrounding the resettlement of refugees.

“They are desperate,” he said. “They are trying to find a safe haven.”

Armed conflict and changing security situations in Iraq have also displaced hundreds of thousands there, according to the High Commissioner for Refugees. International Rescue Committee, a humanitarian organization that assists refugees, says there are more than 3 million people in Iraq who have been “uprooted by violent conflict since 2014.”

Many Iraqis are also in danger because they worked for the U.S. military, according to the rescue committee. In fiscal 2016, 578 Iraqi refugees have been resettled in Texas, according to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement.

‘Serving with substance’

Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth anticipated resettling 545 refugees this fiscal year. The nonprofit has served about 40 percent of that projection so far this fiscal year, said Laila Amara, area director for Refugee Services of Texas in Fort Worth.

North Texas’ job market, established immigrant/refugee communities and network of churches and organizations that support resettlement are reasons refugees move into the region.

The refugees are a mix of families and individuals from areas in the world that have experienced conflict, she said.

“We continue to see Congolese, Burmese, Afghan people and some Somali,” Amara said.

Refugee Services is helping resettle the Iraqi family that was welcomed by Fort Worth Youth International this month.

The youth group, which includes about 15 young people, collected donations and created a GoFundMe account called, “Furnish a Home for a Refugee Family.” On April 15, the young people bought groceries and set up an apartment for a family.

On April 18, two of the teens waited for the family to arrive at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport.

“It was so exciting to see the people that would be living in the home we set up and to be one of the first people in the United States that they met,” said Lauren Titsworth, a 17-year-old junior at Nolan Catholic High School in Fort Worth.

Selin Karsi, 18, a senior at Birdville High School in North Richland Hills, who also greeted the family at the airport, was inspired to post a essay, “Serving with Substance.”

“Personally, it was an emotional experience for me,” Karsi said.

Diane A. Smith: 817-390-7675, @dianeasmith1

If you go

Conversation on refugee crisis

  • The Fort Worth community is invited to a panel discussion about the world refugee crisis from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Tarrant County College Trinity River Campus, 300 Trinity Campus Circle, Fort Worth.
  • The event will take place in Room Action A 4202.
  • It is free, but reservations are requested at beth@fwsistercities.org.
  • Manochehr Dorraj, professor of political science at TCU, will be the keynote speaker.
  • Information: 817-632-7100.
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