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One Syrian Refugee's Story

Rachael McDonald

There are 6 Syrian refugees in Oregon. One of them lives in Eugene. Ali Turki Ali came here in June. He’s learning English at Lane Community College.  Ali left his home country in March 2014.
Ali: “I left Syria because of the war. So, you know it’s very dangerous to live there. I tried to stay there a long time after the war began. But then I couldn’t stay because the military sought me out to fight with them.”
To avoid being forced to fight, Ali left his apartment in Allepo, Syria with just one bag. He joined family in Turkey. They’d previously fled the war. For a year and 4 months, Ali remained in Turkey seeking refugee status. There, he met diplomat Mark Ward, at the United Nations office.
Mark’s son, Peter is a graduate student at the University of Oregon, and Ali’s sponsor in the United States.  Ali says he’s hoping his family can come here too. They’re not able to make a life in Turkey.
Ali: “Right now, for a short time, they can stay there. But for all their life, they can’t stay there. They can’t be citizen. They don’t have any rights.”

The danger in Syria is real.

Before the war, nobody wanted to leave Syria. Nobody wanted to change their life. But now they want to leave because they do not have any choice.

On the day Ali traveled to the U.S., his sister and her husband were killed by Isis fighters. Ali says his sister’s daughter is now in a refugee camp in Germany.
After 5 months in Eugene, Ali, who’s 34, is settling in. His friend and sponsor, Peter Ward, marvels at Ali’s English skills.
Ward: “It’s amazing to hear how much he can say now. After hearing him come off the plane.
[reporter] “What are your plans?”
Ali: “My plan. First, I have to improve my English. I have to speak English very well, like American people.”
Ward: “Speak better, Ali, speak better than Americans”
Ali: “I hope so. Then I hope to transfer my degree. Maybe I will return to teaching.”
Ali taught math in Syria. His math skills will likely come in handy with his new job. After a Register Guard newspaper article about Ali, he was contacted by the proprietor of a retirement plan company.
Ali: “He told me he usually hires mathematical people. So, when he read my article and he wanted to help me. I have a math degree. So, he called me, I have a job for you.” Ali-job
Ali says he’ll start his new job in January. He says he will sleep better at night. Ali has found a second family with Ward and his relatives, who have welcomed him in.
Ali: “Anyone I think he will miss his home. But, I think it’s a very safe place, good place, quiet place. I like the weather here. I like winter. The important thing is people they are very friendly.” Ali-friendly
Ali has found a friend in his sponsor, Peter Ward. And Ward feels the friendship will be lifelong.
Ward: “It’s taught me a lot about understanding what strength is and what someone can do if they have to. I’ve definitely struggled in my own travels with things like culture shock and being at a place and then to see him come here and he doesn’t have the luxury of going home. He has to stay here and make a new life and there’s no choice really.”
When I ask Ali about the current political backlash against Muslim refugees in the U.S., he says it worries him.
Ali: “Especially for my family. But now I am here. My family they are Muslim, I am Muslim. I think all of the people like me. I think, I am not Isis. I think not all of the Muslim people are Isis. Not all of Syrian people are Isis.”
Ali has a genuine fear of Isis, based on personal experience. He says the people who want to leave Syria are fleeing because their lives are in danger.
Ali: “Before the war, nobody wanted to leave Syria. Nobody wanted to change their life. But now they want to leave because they don’t have any choice. They have to leave or they will [be] killed.”
They have to leave or they will be killed.


Rachael McDonald is KLCC’s former News Director. Rachael has a BA in English from the University of Oregon. She started out in public radio as a newsroom volunteer at KLCC in 2000. After reporting for the Northwest News Network and KAZU, Rachael returned to KLCC in 2007 as Morning Edition host and a general assignment reporter covering politics, the environment, education, and the arts. She was hired as KLCC News Director in 2018. Rachael departed KLCC in June, 2022.
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