By Michael Hill
Twenty-six-year-old Sandy Khabbazeh came to New Jersey last year from Aleppo in northern Syria, a battleground between the government’s army and the Islamic State.
“The war took my ambitions and dreams away, so I think I want to leave. It’s not a place to stay anymore,” she said.
She says the war led to uncertainty for both her and her family. “When I go out from the house I don’t know when I’ll go back. If I’m saying goodbye to my mom, maybe it will be the last goodbye. I got shot three times. I was lucky. One day when I was going to school a missile hit the road where I was going and all the stones and metal things, instead of flying at me, they were flying on the other side and killed 20 people and I was watching. It was horrible. I had nightmares when I came here and I couldn’t sleep. It’s hard. It’s difficult to see people die in front of you. You know, are you going to die?” she said.
However, this wasn’t the only time Sandy would be caught in the crossfire.
“We’re living on the line between the Syrian government and ISIS, and every time ISIS want to attack we got some bullets and some of the glass and pieces of the explosions in the house. So, it’s not safe. When ISIS got snipers on buildings on the area next to our house and they shoot people who cross in the street. When I was walking I was crossing the street and going to school like a normal day, and I remember it was Monday. I was rushing, I want to go to school, and all of a sudden I hear bullets and one guy was hiding behind the tree. He went at me so fast and he dragged me from my shoulder and threw me on the other side of the road and he said, ‘Don’t you hear that he’s shooting you.’ And I said, ‘No. I’m not paying attention. What’s going on?’ He said, ‘look at you. Do I have to take you to the hospital? Are you shot? Are you injured?’ and I look at myself and I saw the holes in my bag. I’m lucky I didn’t die that day. ISIS is against everybody. I heard a couple of stories that they kill from free army, like they’re brutal and they’re people full of hate. They want to kill everybody.
She says she was in denial while she was living in Aleppo.
“When I was there I was like everything is normal. Nothing’s wrong. Just like a couple attacks and it will stop. And every time the government army says the next year is the year — we’re going to push them back, push them back. And I felt like every time the government said that we’re going to be worse, and worse and worse.
Sandy has assimilated using her civil engineer degree to land a job as a concrete inspector. When her family couldn’t afford to care for her anymore, the pastor of Ponds Reformed Church in Oakland took her in as one of their own.
She recently carved a pumpkin for the first time, and says she loves America.
“I love America. America is my new home. I can’t go back to Syria. I’m done. All the killing, all the bad. I don’t have good memories about my country, Syria. I don’t want to go back, no,” she explained.
Sandy’s family says it has a bullseye on it.
We’re Christian, so we’re the main target. My mom and dad got scared about me, and the first time they say no we can’t let you go, but when they hear news about Christian girls who are kidnapped, who are tortured and killed then they say we don’t have any choice, just leave, go.
She did, but left behind her retired French teacher father, and civil engineer mother and civil engineer 28-year-old brother, George. They still live in Aleppo – just west of an ISIS-controlled area. We spoke to them via Skype as they used a generator for power.
“We just survived a seige on Aleppo where ISIS and al-Nusra Front tried to take on Aleppo. So basically the markets, the food markets were shot down and our basic needs, like electricity and water were cut off. So we basically surviving on what we have stored in the house,” her brother said.
When asked why him and his parents don’t flee to a nearby country he said, “Basically we don’t have the money for it,” he said. “The currency of the state is falling so we cannot afford to live in Lebanon, or Turkey or anywhere else. And that’s because the currency is losing value very fast.”
There are a growing number of people in the United States who don’t want refugees to come to America. George, who describes himself as a God-fearing Christian, says he doesn’t see the problem.
“I just want to live,” he said. “I just want to live. To have my very basic needs fulfilled; have running water and electricity. The Christians here are in extreme danger. We want immediate rescue.”
Currently 31 governors have said they want to close their state’s border to Syrian refugees. Sandy has a message for them, and the president.
“I will tell the people that we don’t, Syrian refugees, Europe made a mistake because they opened the border for any people. They would pretend, ‘We are Syrian! Come rescue us!’ which they’re not, they’re ISIS coming to Europe. But here in the United States each person that came in, who came in, they looked at his profile, they checked his background, they check his families background, they check everything about him. They know what we eat. I will say, You’re a human like me. I got caught in a war. There’s nothing to do with it. All of a sudden I woke up and I’m in the middle of shooting and bombing, so please give me another chance to live. I’ll send a message to President Obama: Please, President Obama, save my family. We’re good people. I don’t have money to support my family and bring them here. Please bring them here.”