Asked and Answered: Opening Our Hearts to Refugees

We are stronger and more vibrant because of the richness immigrants and refugees bring to our country. Today, the refugee crisis is one of the most urgent tests of our time: 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes by violence, persecution, and instability. Fleeing from countries around the world, refugees carry with them a common hope for leading a safe life with dignity. In honor of the resilience of refugees and the contributions they bring, we’re sharing the story of Heba Hallak, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee.

Last year, Heba wrote to President Obama about what it was like for her and her family to flee from war in Syria. Now living in New Jersey with the support of her family and teachers, Heba is able to continue to attend school and pursue her dream of going to college and becoming a doctor.

Read the handwritten letter from Heba to the President:

November/21/2015

President Barack Obama

I am a Syrian girl. I am 17. I want to start by my life in Syria.

Before the war, my life was perfect. I used to make a small party with my friends every Friday. I lived in Idleb, in a small Town is called Taftanaz.

My school was good. I liked my friends and my teachers. I was a little child. That made my life perfect.

When the war started, the Syrian army attacked our town. Its tanks destroyed my school and some of my house. I heard much of the sounds of bombing. Because of that, we crossed into Turkey. We found a house and we rented it. There, a Syrian man established a school for all Syrian children. It was very nice choice. I met a lot of girls from other cities of Syria. I learned many things. My little sister suffers from autism, we requested to come here because we could not find choices to go to the Turkish collages. Fortunnately, your organization accepted our request and we did come. America is nice country. People here respect us. The school is good. Your curreculm is easy. I like it. I want to be a dotctor in the future.

The helpings you give us are good. My language is not full yet, but I’m learning. I don’t have any idea about your universities. I need that in order to forget everything I saw in Syria.

I am thankful, I thank you from my heart because everything is nice. My teachers at school here are helpful. They are trying to help me as they can. That makes me better. I’ve loved math. I like the American Pizza and pickle. Very nice food. The most important thing is that I’m free and living in peace with my family.

Best wishes,

Heba Hallak

Here’s the President’s response to Heba:

May 9, 2016

Dear Heba:

Your letter reached my desk, and I wanted to thank you for writing to share your story with me.

I know it must have been difficult to leave your life behind in Syria and make new friends here, but I am glad to hear you are enjoying school — and the pizza — in the United States. Despite all you have been through, I want you to know that America will always be a place where brave young women like you and your sister can come to learn, thrive, and find a sense of belonging.

The optimism and determination of families like yours are what help set our country apart. I trust you’ll keep working hard in school and reaching for your dreams — as long as you do, I’m confident there are no limits to what you can achieve.

Sincerely,

Barack Obama


Helping refugees isn’t just up to governments — every American can play a role. Together, we can welcome refugees and help them rebuild their lives with dignity. At the United Nations in New York City, President Obama hosted a Refugee Summit that brought together world leaders who are stepping up to do more to support refugees and help them rebuild their lives. Find out how you can help, too.