A Syrian Refugee’s Story of Resilience

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Allison Kowal-Safron, Staff Writer


pictures by: Jordan Lashway
Speaker, Mr. Zeno

During the afternoon of October 26th, the entire student body gathered in the cafeteria to listen to a Syrian refugee by the name of Basileus Zeno speak. Currently, Baselius is a PhD student in the Political Science Department at UMass Amherst. Throughout the assembly, Baselius spoke about the experiences he’s faced as a Syrian refugee. After civil war broke out in Syria in 2013, Baselius remained there until it was too unsafe. Eventually, essentially everything that he had and worked for was destroyed due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. His home faced massive devastation, and many of his closest friends and family died in his home country as a result of this catastrophic war. He witnessed bombs going off, many of which were often only a few blocks away from his apartment. To contrast this devastating setting with what it had once been, he showed pictures documenting the life he had before war broke out in Damascus, Syria.

After he came to the realization that he was no longer safe, Basileus decided to take refuge in the United States. It was a very hard decision for him to make, as it meant that he and his family would separate indefinitely. Now, years later, his family is scattered all around the world; his brother lives in Canada, some other relatives live in Germany, and he is here with his wife. Basileus noted how he has a picture, taken years prior, of the last time his family was all together. He emphasized how hard his experience was, saying, “I would do anything to get another one of these pictures with my family.”

Basileus also discussed some of the prejudices that he has faced since arriving here in the United States regarding his refugee status and the difficulties this brings. Because the government and much of the American population do not show support for Basileus, he believes many people view him as a “terrorist.” In fact, he admitted that before he came into the United States, he was screened as a suspected terrorist. He explained how this prejudice against Syrian refugees is greatly influenced by what the Trump administration has done to attempt to keep refugees out of the country. Basileus stressed how refugees are the people who need the most help, support, and care. He explained how he escaped war, and he wished people would view him in a respectful way.

Before leaving Syria, he was working for his PhD in Archaeology and was writing his dissertation for it. However, he left before he could finish it. Many of the people who he was working on it with ultimately died as a result of the violence in Syria, including his professor and many of his friends. This assembly was very emotional and eye opening for most of the student body. It not only forced putting things into perspective on having the opportunity to live in the United States, with its government and social order, but also emphasized how lucky we are to live such stable lives. Basileus highlighted the importance of realizing that what happened in his country could happen anywhere; he ended his presentation with this: “We never imagined that what is currently happening in Syria would ever happen, so what’s to say that it couldn’t happen here?”