As Donald Trump assembles his Cabinet, we look at one of the communities that have been the target of his immigration policy: Syrian refugees. Over the course of the campaign, Trump called them “terrorists,” incorrectly accused them of carrying out violent attacks in the United States, and repeatedly said he would end all immigration to the U.S. by Syrian refugees and others from what he called “terror-prone nations.” The five-year Syrian conflict has displaced about half the prewar population, with more than 6 million Syrians displaced inside Syria and nearly 5 million Syrian refugees outside its borders. Close to half a million Syrians have been killed in the ongoing war. In Morocco, where Democracy Now! is broadcasting from, some estimate there are thousands of Syrian refugees, though exact figures are difficult to determine. On Thursday evening, producer Deena Guzder spoke to several Syrian refugees in Marrakech.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Donald Trump has just tapped Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions to be his attorney general and Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo to head the CIA. Well, as Trump assembles his Cabinet, we look at one of the communities that have been the most targeted through his immigration policy that he has talked about during the campaign: Syrian refugees. Over the course of the campaign, Donald Trump called them “terrorists” and incorrectly accused them of carrying out violent attacks in the United States. Trump has repeatedly said he would end all immigration to the U.S. by Syrian refugees and others from what he called “terror-prone nations.” This is Donald Trump speaking last month.
DONALD TRUMP: We’re not going to take the risk when it comes to the safety of the American people. No longer. So let me state this as clearly as I can: If I’m elected president, I am going to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.
AMY GOODMAN: The five-year Syrian conflict has displaced about half the prewar population, with more than 6 million Syrians displaced inside Syria and nearly 5 million Syrian refugees outside its borders. Close to half a million Syrians have been killed in the ongoing war. Here in Morocco, according to some estimates, there are thousands of Syrian refugees, though exact figures are difficult to determine.
On Thursday evening, Democracy Now! spoke to several Syrian refugees here in Marrakech.
HASSAN KHARDAK: [translated] I am from the Hama province in Syria. My name is Hassan Khardak [phon.].
DEENA GUZDER: And how did you come from Syria to Morocco?
HASSAN KHARDAK: [translated] I came from Syria, then I crossed into Lebanon, and I stayed for one year in Lebanon. And I have prepared my passport before the war. And when the war waged, it became very tough for me. And I have six daughters and three youths. I had to flee from there to Morocco. I came from Beirut and then came to Algeria, and then I crossed into Morocco through Oujda.
DEENA GUZDER: Why did you come to Morocco? Is this your final destination, or do you hope to go elsewhere afterwards?
HASSAN KHARDAK: [translated] I have never left Syria, and this is the first I had to leave this country. We came here to Morocco, and we thought we would stay four or five months and then make it back to Syria. But now I’m here for more than two years. We never thought we’d be staying in Morocco for so long.
DEENA GUZDER: How was your life in Syria — how did it change? What is the situation there right now?
HASSAN KHARDAK: [translated] My life in Syria was very good. And as a poor person, I had a very good life in Syria. I was working with people. But because of the war, I had to leave. Now I came with no money, and I’m out here sitting in the streets.
DEENA GUZDER: How has this conflict impacted your children? And what future do you hope for them?
HASSAN KHARDAK: [translated] Yes, the war has affected us all. It has impacted everything — no school, no money, no nothing. And as I say, I have 10 children. They don’t go to school now. This is catastrophic.
DEENA GUZDER: After speaking to Hassan Khardak in the medina, or old city, we drove toward the outskirts of Marrakech. We met a mother and a daughter who fled to Morocco from Syria in 2012, a year after the conflict began. They did not want to show their faces, out of fear for their safety.
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] I am from Idlib, from Syria. My name is Zainab al-Hassan
DEENA GUZDER: And you’re standing here next to your daughter. What is your name?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: Ghalia.
DEENA GUZDER: How old are you?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] 13.
DEENA GUZDER: And how did you get to Morocco?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] We went first to Beirut, then Lebanon and then crossed to Egypt, and then, from Egypt, to Algeria.
DEENA GUZDER: What was life like in Syria when you left?
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] It was very difficult. People were killing each other. We were looking at a horrible situation in Syria. We saw men who stood in front of us and said, “Enough. You have to get away. You have to get away.”
DEENA GUZDER: Do you have other children in Syria?
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] I have five children — three boys and two girls — in Syria.
DEENA GUZDER: How long have you been in Morocco since leaving Syria?
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] Now, it’s four years.
DEENA GUZDER: What has it been like for you to leave Syria as a young child?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] It was very difficult for me. Yes, we found that we had very big problems. We had to cross the borders. We had a lot of hardship.
DEENA GUZDER: You’re a child. What is your hope for the future? What do you want to do when you grow up?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] I am studying now. I go to school. I want to be a surgeon.
DEENA GUZDER: In the United States, there is a leader who says that no more Syrian refugees should come to our country. What is your message in response to people who are trying to close the borders off to people fleeing the situation in Syria today?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] I want to ask him why they want to close the borders first. Syrians have suffered very much. Why should they close the borders in our faces? They should help us, because we’ve gone through a lot of suffering and lost everything.
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] Syrians have suffered a lot. So, enough suffering.
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] They cannot close the borders, because there will be a lot of people coming. They cannot close the borders. There are children. There are parents. There are mothers. There are women. We have to go to Europe and to other countries. We’ve been disdained, and things are very difficult for us during the years we’ve spent outside Syria. Now we’re undergoing a very difficult kind of life.
DEENA GUZDER: What are some of the difficulties you face as a refugee?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] We don’t have a home. We lost our home. We lost our belongings, everything.
ZAINAB AL-HASSAN: [translated] We have lost a lot of people in Syria, children. And they’re still dying there.
DEENA GUZDER: What would it mean if foreign leaders made it more difficult for Syrians to leave and get asylum abroad?
GHALIA AL-HASSAN: [translated] It would be better to die if they close the borders.
AMY GOODMAN: That report by Democracy Now!’s Deena Guzder. Special thanks to Nermeen Shaikh and John Hamilton and to the Arabic-English translator Sabir Taraouat. While interviewing Syrian refugees here in Marrakech, the Democracy Now! team was stopped numerous times by Moroccan police, both plainclothes and in full uniform, police forces repeatedly demanding to see press credentials, questioning the reporters about their reporting. They also followed the team from the bustling center of Marrakech to the suburban outskirts of Targa, Douar Sidi Daou. After we finished interviews, police then followed the team back to the riad, the traditional Moroccan house in the old city of medina. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Stay with us.