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For Syrian Refugees In U.S., 'Chaos' And 'Confusion' Follow Paris Attacks


Syrian refugees were thrown into the center of political debates after the Paris attacks two weeks ago, and I wanted to check back in with someone who works to resettle refugees here in the U.S. I met Corine Dehabey last month in Toledo, Ohio. She helps set up families with English lessons, housing and furniture. Her organization is called US Together. Today she told me there was some chaos and confusion after the attacks as families tried to figure out what it all meant for them.

CORINE DEHABEY: You know, the media went about it so much, and they labeled the Syrian refugees or Syrians as terrorists. But we are fortunate in Toledo, that the Toledo area, it's a very welcoming community. We didn't have a lot of negative comments. On the contrary, we had people calling us, asking what they can do to help us out. But the refugees themselves, the families were kind of concerned too about the whole issue.

SHAPIRO: You mean the refugees were afraid of a backlash?

DEHABEY: From here, from the United States, not from overseas - Syria or any other country. They were worried, like, if people are going to hear it so much they are terrorists, something's going to happen here from inside the United States to them.

SHAPIRO: But so far, there has not been any backlash. There have not been any hate crimes against the families that have resettled or anything like that.

DEHABEY: No, no, no. Everything is fine. Everything is OK. Nothing happened, and I'm sure it's not going to happen. We're hoping, praying.

SHAPIRO: Toledo, as you say, is a welcoming community. Ohio's Governor John Kasich is one of 30 governors in the U.S. who've said either they don't want to admit refugees from Syria and Iraq into their state or they want to pause the program. We spoke to Ohio Governor John Kasich on this program a couple of weeks ago. I'd like to play you part of what he said. Let's listen.


JOHN KASICH: You know, in light of Paris, I think it's very reasonable to say that we need to have a pause. If we can establish proper protocols, procedures to know who they are so that we're not inviting people under the cover of refugee status who mean us harm, you know, then that's another day.

SHAPIRO: Corine Dehabey, how would you respond to that?

DEHABEY: Well, my response to him, we're not welcoming refugees left and right from the problem area hopping on the plane and coming here. We know they are going through 12 steps of screening. And I would like to tell the governor, we should trust more in our homeland security and our American government judgment. We're not talking about Europe here. Europe, yes, they had massive people going to Europe through oceans and sea. And many of them were undocumented, and we don't know if they were Syrian or not. But here, it's the opposite.

SHAPIRO: Corine, when I visited Toledo last month, you introduced me to Omar Al-Awad and his family. It was the day that his children started American school.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: One, two, three, four, five, six...

SHAPIRO: How are Omar and his family doing now?

DEHABEY: They are doing really well. They are improving in a lot of things. The language is one of them. He's doing here and there jobs, you know, freelancing work.

SHAPIRO: He's a carpenter, right?

DEHABEY: Yes. But he's - we're trying to help him out, taking him to Home Depot, teaching him the material names and stuff so he can probably, in the future, work as a carpenter.

SHAPIRO: That's Corine Dehabey. She runs the group US Together, resettling refugees in Toledo, Ohio.

Great to talk to you again.

DEHABEY: Thank you Ari, thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.