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It wasn't long before Christmas in Amman, the capital of Jordan. I'd overheard a stranger talking about a Muslim Syrian refugee who was working as a Santa Claus actor in one of Amman's many malls. Using a little internet sleuthing, I managed to find the mall and get in touch.
When I arrived, I had a long argument with various members of the security team, but eventually managed to secure 10 minutes for an interview. You'll have to forgive the amateur filming/interviewing; it was all very last minute.
Majd's story is a touching one. He lost a lot of friends in an attack on his university, he fled his home and everything he knew, he eventually made it to Lebanon where he was repeatedly verbally abused because he was Syrian. His employers often referred to him as "Syrian Dog." Yet he's come through it all to have an incredible, positive attitude towards life.
He is currently hoping to study abroad. However, when he fled Syria he lost his high school certificate, and so he doesn't have the ability to prove that he has studied. Now, he works multiple jobs to support his family, while hoping that a solution will come along.
Jordan is the unspoken hero of the Middle East. They have not only welcomed a million Syrian refugees, but have taken many more from neighboring conflicts. As Majd mentions in his interview, Jordan has taken in refugees from Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, Sudan, and many more. Considering Jordan's location, wedged between Iraq, Israel, Syria, and Saudi Arabia, it remains a remarkably safe and peaceful country. In fact, Jordan has taken in so many refugees that now a third of their population is made up of them. All the while, in rich countries, politicians work tirelessly to keep a few thousand refugees out.
Jordan does this in spite of the fact that it is not a rich country; they're far from it. Unlike the Gulf States that reside next-door, Jordan does not have any sizable oil reserves. They also have dangerously low water supplies. One of the larger refugee camps in Jordan is actually located in the dried-up water basin of a once flourishing oasis.
Yet through all of their hardships, their king accepts huge numbers of refugees, because he says it is his moral duty to do so. They take in far more refugees than much richer countries like Saudi Arabia, the UK, and the USA. The only country in the area that has come close is the tiny state of Lebanon.
Next time you hear someone tar all countries in the Middle East with the same brush, bring up Jordan, and compare their efforts to the good being done by your own country. The statistics speak for themselves.
Nonetheless, Jordan needs help. Climate change is devastating the country, they have huge unemployment rates, and they are not getting the support they need from richer countries. Other than donating to refugee aid charities like UNICEF, you can support Jordan by visiting. They have incredible attractions, from Petra, to the Dead Sea, to Wadi Rum. You will receive a warm welcome that will change your perceptions of the Middle-East forever. All the while you will be supporting them by spending while you visit.
While Trump's Muslim ban stops Syrians from entering the US, Majd and his positive message provides the perfect counter-argument to those who say we can't take in any more refugees. Ask yourself if you think people like Majd are really the problem? How is it that a country with 65 times the GDP can only take in a tenth of the amount of refugees? When did we stop seeing people in need as human, just because they come from a different part of the world?
If you would like to read more about Majd's story you can read his blog.
If you would like to know more about the atheist interfaith project that inspired the interview, check out this website.