Professor Kim Meyer on Houston’s Refugees: Required Reading!

Last month, Honors College Professor Kim Meyer published an extensive piece in Texas Monthly, “Welcoming the Stranger: Faces of the Refugee Crisis.”  It’s a splendid work of immersive journalism, humane in intent and powerfully informative in effect. For all interested in the refugee crisis and its local impact, I’d say it’s required reading.  I have worked with Dr. Meyer for several years and invited her to respond to a few brief questions surrounding her interest in the migration crisis and her own trajectory towards researching and writing this article.  — Richard Armstrong

How did you first become interested in Houston’s refugees?

I first became interested in writing about Syrian refugees in Houston while auditing Professor Michael Fares’ Arabic class.  I had recently come back from the Egypt’s Sinai Desert, where I’d gone to research the relationship between the Christian monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery that sits at the base of Mount Sinai, and the Muslim Bedouin tribe (called the Jebeliyah–the People of the Mountain) who are guardians and caretakers of the monastery and the monks.  Taking Arabic, I was more alert to what was happening in the Houston Arab community, and back then in the fall of 2015, the refugee crisis was erupting in a profound way in Europe.  Slowly, Syrian refugees were making their way here as well. 

A little later, in the spring of 2016, I happened to attend an event at the Turkish Cultural Center in southwest Houston that was intended to promote the budding catering businesses of four Syrian refugee women.  The woman in charge of this event, herself a Mexican-American convert to Islam, I found magnetic and endearing.  I asked if I could interview her and find out about the work she was doing with refugees.  Carmen Garcia turned out to be a force within this small world of Syrian refugees, and she in turn introduced me to the families with whom she was working.  These families and their children became the source for the stories I wrote for Texas Monthly.  

Do you think UH has a special interest in this issue compared to other universities?

Houston takes pride in its reputation as a welcoming city to newcomers from all over the US and all over the globe.  My sense is that the interest in refugees has soared in recent months, in part because of the growing awareness of the refugee crisis arising from the catastrophe of Syria, and in part because of the various iterations of President Trump’s executive orders on immigration and refugees.  I hope that this interest continues, because the refugee resettlement agencies will really need help in the coming months and years, as the number of refugees decreases and therefore the funding that these agencies receive is also cut.  They will need all of the help they can get.

What should students do if they want to get more involved helping Houston’s refugees?

If you are interested in getting more involved in these issues, check out this wonderful document created by Dr. Edie Furniss, which lists organizations in Houston that work with refugees and the kind of help that they need:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1miJubdimLdGCxzny6_WjIYgQUw6MWZx0Kr9eFYhzah8/edit

—Kim Meyer, Honors College

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