Tala Shihab: Utah should remain welcoming of refugees

There are many causes of migration around the world leading to an increase in the number of refugees: war, famine, climate change, the list goes on and on.

As the need to seek a home increases worldwide, it is particularly troubling that the Trump administration plans to cut down the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States to only 18,000 a year. This number decreased from 30,000 refugees in 2019, a decrease of more than a third.

I’m concerned that this number will continue to drop and that Trump’s effort to limit refugees in the United States is not based on data but erroneously held fears and stereotypes. Even though I am not a refugee, I know what it is like to be grouped into a false narrative.

I attend a small private school where I am one of the very few Muslims. In such a small school, my religious identity is obvious. Being Muslim has never been something I’ve been ashamed of. In fact, I was encouraged to share my voice and beliefs. But this didn’t change the fact that, even in moments when I didn’t feel the difference, there was still discomfort of not knowing what people thought of me.

I have felt grouped into an image of what a Muslim is, and my sense of individuality was somehow diminished. Yet, ironically, by being placed into a stereotype, I was able to shape who I am today to challenge these false notions.

However, it was the support of my community that made me realize the importance and impact I can make within my city. Again, even though I’m not a refugee, a number of refugees are Muslim. In 2017, I was gratified to see thousands of Utahns protesting in the Refugee March. And even then, I have had strangers approach my mother who wears the headscarf just to mention their appreciation for simply expressing herself as a Muslim.

By having a supportive community, I learned that my differences should be embraced. I encourage my fellow Utahns to continue to be similarly welcoming, like my community, and inclusive of all minorities, especially refugees.

As a Muslim born and raised in Utah, I have faced challenges. I can’t imagine the difficulties a refugee faces with the stereotypes they face.

America has long been a welcome host for refugees, but Utahns, in particular, should be concerned about Trump’s new plan.

Utah was founded by Mormon refugees seeking escape from religious persecution. In other words, Utah was built by those longing for a community and experiencing the freedom that America promises.

Since 1980, Utah has sheltered around 65,000 refugees seeking a better life. And for that, I’m proud to call Utah my home.

While no one of us can completely ease the transition and difficulties a refugee may face, all of us can do our part to fight to keep America a welcoming place for refugees, to fight these proposed cuts to our refugee program, and simply to take the time to understand their stories. Simple acts of appreciation can make a difference and reinforce the hospitality Utah is known for.

All refugees, regardless of their background and their religious identity, deserve the same rights we have, and we should make sure this holds true. I don’t want to grow up in a world where I feel my opinions aren’t important enough to be validated.

We all have stories we want to share, and I encourage you to welcome the refugees into our community before the idea of Utah as a home for refugees disappears.

Tala Shihab

Tala Shihab, a senior at Rowland Hall High School is a 17-year-old Lebanese-American born and raised in Salt Lake City.