RUTLAND, Vt. — Ahmed Khatib and his wife, Mahasen, sat shoeless at the dining room table in a rambling two-story home here Friday, their three young children chattering and laughing as they pushed toy trucks and pored over coloring books.
The scene seemed wildly improbable only weeks ago. The Khatibs fled to Turkey from war-ravaged Syria more than four years ago, and they are among the first arrivals in a plan to relocate more than 100 refugees in Rutland over the coming year.
Khatib, a trim 37-year-old, smiled nervously when asked about Trump’s dark portrayal of the dangers posed by Muslim refugees.
“I think in every country, the views of the president are different from the views of the people,” Khatib said quietly. So far, he added, the Americans he has met have been “very nice and very helpful and welcoming.”
They crossed the border safely but then languished in Turkey until round after round of intensive vetting — some by the CIA — finally deemed the family fit to enter the United States as refugees, Khatib said.
“Refugee,” Ahmed said with a grimace. “I want to get rid of that name. I’ve suffered a lot from it.”
…Neither he nor his wife speaks English — a refugee resettlement agency is providing an interpreter — and jobs will have to wait until they have settled into an apartment, which is expected soon.
…“It’s disheartening,” Cheryl Hooker said as she waited to drive the Khatibs to the elementary school, where Dania, the 5-year-old, will begin kindergarten on Monday. “We were ready for the rest of the families.”
… Critics in Rutland have voiced fears about terrorist infiltration, echoing a concern that Trump voiced repeatedly during the campaign.
But Stacie Blake, an official with the national nonprofit agency that is shepherding refugees to Rutland, assailed that thinking.
“This idea that refugees are a threat is misinformed. We can have security and welcome refugees at the same time,” said Blake, who is director of government and community relations for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants. “This would be a complete disregard for our values as Americans.”
…Ahmed Khatib predicted that the war in Syria will not end soon, which means more destruction — and more refugees.
But on Friday, at least, smiles were plentiful. At Northwest Primary School, where Dania will join strangers who do not speak her language, a welcoming committee of teachers and staff escorted her to brightly colored classrooms, a snow-covered playground, and a gleaming gymnasium.
Madison Akin, the school counselor, crouched before Dania as the tour ended.
“I’m really excited that you’re going to come to our school,” Akin said. “You’re going to love it here. Welcome, welcome, welcome!”
Dania looked into the counselor’s face, and her mouth spread wide in a beaming smile.
[Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]-
— OOOO —
[Photo of German-born Anne, age 3 with her mother Edith Frank, age 32)
GERMAN REFUGEE FAMILY SETTLES IN DUTCH CITY AMIDST UNCERTAINTY
[Excerpt from imagined article from 1933]
Amsterdam, The Netherlands — Businessman Otto Frank and his wife, Edith, have settled into their new apartment in South Amsterdam with their young daughters Margot, age 7 and Anne, age 4. The scene seemed wildly improbable only a few months ago. The Franks fled to the Netherlands from Germany and are among many arrivals who have relocated to Holland recently
Edith, a comely housewife, bit her lip when asked about Hitler’s dark portrayal of the dangers posed by Jewish refugees.
“I think in every country, the views of the leaders are different from the views of the people,” Mr. Frank, her calming husband, added quietly. “So far the Dutch people have been very helpful and welcoming.”
Mrs. Frank and the girls left Frankfurt am Main with Mr. Frank but stopped in Aachen for several months with Mrs. Frank’s mother while Otto Frank went on to Amsterdam to find lodgings for his family and set up his business, including the hiring of employees. Among those hired, a young Dutch woman, originally from Austria, named Hermine Santroschitz whom everyone calls by the Dutch nickname Miep.
Along with working in the office (since the arrival of Mrs. Frank and the children) Miep and her tall, good-humored fiancé Jan Gies, a Dutchman who is a social worker with the City of Amsterdam, have been invited for coffee and cake on sundays by the Frank family along other Jewish refugees. The children call Miep and Jan – ‘Our new Dutch friends.’
[Photo: Miep Gies and Jan Gies on their wedding day, photographed by a street photographer]
“Refugee,” Mrs. Frank said with a grimace. “I want to get rid of that name.”
Though Mr. Frank has started to learn the Dutch language, neither Mrs. Frank nor her daughters speaks it. All are making an effort to learn, especially the girls, who are quick learners.
Critics in the Netherlands have voiced fears about foreign infiltration, echoing the concern that Hitler voiced repeatedly since his election. There are new rumors that border controls may be enacted sometime soon to stop more Jews from fleeing Germany. But Holland has a reputation for tolerance and a history of welcoming outsiders, so many Dutch people have opened their hearts to the newcomers.
“This idea that refugees are a threat is misinformed.” one Dutch woman commented, “We can have security and welcome refugees at the same time, We cannot disregard our values as Dutch.”
Many predict that Hitler’s uncanny rise to power in Germany will not last long.
At the Montessori school in south Amsterdam where Anne will join neighborhood children, a welcoming committee of teachers and staff escorted her to brightly colored classroom.
“I’m really excited that you’re going to come to our school,” the teacher said. “You’re going to love it here. Welcome, welcome, welcome!”
Anne looked into the teacher’s face, and her mouth spread wide in a beaming smile.***
[Photo: Anne Frank – front row, left – with new friends in South Amsterdam playing dress-up]
[[For more on the Frank family, their friends and their travails see: Anne Frank Remembered, The Story of the Woman who Helped to Hide the Frank Family by Miep Gies and me and Memories of Anne Frank, Reflections of a Childhood Friend]]