Volunteers serve Thanksgiving dinner for Syrian refugees

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SEATTLE — Volunteers spent Thanksgiving afternoon in Pioneer Square, serving a meal to 40 Syrian refugees in the Puget Sound area.

The idea started when one person, who was tutoring some families in English, wanted to bring a family home with her for Thanksgiving. That turned into a much larger project, with more volunteers and guests.

This came hours after Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed an executive order ensuring that city employees would not ask anyone for immigration status, and that $250,000 would be dedicated to addressing the needs of unauthorized immigrant children in the Seattle Public Schools system.

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“With the exception from those Native peoples, we are all from someplace else. Seattle has remained a welcoming city, even during this very difficult time when immigrants in their role in our country are under attack,” Murray said in a recorded video posted to the mayor’s website. “I want to again thank the people of this city for embracing everyone, regardless of where they were born, and making sure that Seattle remains a place that welcomes everybody.”

Mustafa al-Mustafa, a Syrian refugee, told KIRO 7 at the Thanksgiving meal that he is grateful for his family to be able to attend.

He said, through a translator, “We feel so welcome, and we mainly come here to share with our American brothers and sisters their holiday - a great Thanksgiving.

To thank them for having us, and to tell them that our houses are open for them to come as brothers and sisters, so we are a family here.”

Al-Mustafa said the past eight months in the U.S. have been more difficult than expected because of the language barrier.

He said this Thanksgiving meal is exactly the type of opportunity his family needs to meet their neighbors and feel like part of the community.

He said one of his daughters needed treatment for leukemia, which was impossible to access in Syria.

So their family was put on a priority list to come to the U.S. from Turkey. He waited seven months, and his daughter is now able to be treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Harborview Medical Center.

Andrea Vielma, a volunteer, said she was born and raised in Seattle. But she knows what it’s like to feel afraid and sometimes unwanted.

Her own parents, from Chile and Costa Rica, were undocumented until they recently began the legalization process.

“Fear and hate kind of go hand in hand. And we need to show no, we don’t hate each other,” Vielma said. “Whether it’s my people – we’re not going to let them be driven out, whether it’s somebody else, another different kind of people – they’re not going to be driven out.”

She graduated from the University of Washington and learned Arabic while studying abroad, and she made the effort to speak the language with the Thanksgiving guests.

On each table, a letter in Arabic was left for the guests. Roughly translated, it said: “Welcome to Seattle, with all respect and appreciation for you and your family.

We wish this Thanksgiving with wellness and goodness.”

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