Immigration and refugee policies have been on the minds of people across the country, including Charlotte. Tonight WFAE’s Charlotte Talks will hold a Public Conversation event to explore these topics.
For Mayada Idlibi both of these issues hit close to home. She emigrated from Syria in the 1980’s. Today she works with refugees placed in Charlotte. WFAE’s Sarah Delia spoke with Idlibi about her journey to America and the challenges of helping refugees settle into their new home.
When refugees land in Charlotte, Mayada Idlibi’s face might be one of the first they are greeted by when they get off the plane.
"When they arrive I’m usually at the airport at the gate waiting for them to welcome them," Idlibi said. "You don’t know how happy they get when they see someone that speaks their language. It’s a special moment that gets recorded, I send it to them later for them to see."
It’s a special moment she knows well. Idlibi’s originally from Aleppo. In the early'80s she traveled with her husband to the United States for a career opportunity he had. War was beginning to break out in Syria around that time so they sought asylum in America and a few years later became citizens. But today her mother is still in war torn Syria.
"It’s heartbreaking. Every time I talk to her, I don’t know if I’ll be able to hear her voice one more time. Even when I talk to her, she asks me if I can hear the bombs," Idlibi said.
Idlibi notes the oceans that separate them and says she feels helpless not being able to do more for her mother who lives in a war zone.
But it’s that personal history that she draws from to help refugees placed in Charlotte. She works with the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte and Carolina Refugees Resettlement programs to help refugees feel more at home. Things like preparing a refugee family’s apartment with supplies to helping enroll children in school. She’ll get a call when a family has been issued a visa and their tickets to the United States have been purchased. She was in the process of helping a family from Jordan when President Trump’s travel ban came down in late January.
"They were approved, and their tickets were purchased, domestic and international. Their bags were ready but then the ban came. They called them right away and said you’re not flying anymore," Idlibi said. "They managed to reach out to me on Facebook and I should show you their messages. They said 'that’s it? We’re not?' Because when you reach that point you go through the whole process, you don’t have a place to stay you gave up working to support your family. Then when the ban was appealed they called them and said you're ready to go. They came about 10 days ago."
Idlibi points out she is all for refugees undergoing background checks, but that there needs to be more balance.
"I would love to see people being checked...make sure they are safe and okay. I’m not against any of that," Idlibi said. "But to torture them to the point where they feel like 'we don’t know what’s going to happen to us?' That’s where I disagree."
Idlibi adds being an American means a lot to her.
"It’s home. I still feel there is a lot of hope and my hope is the American people."