Syrian-born Alabama resident discusses Gov. Bentley’s decision to turn away refugees

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Alabama Governor Robert Bentley is one of 23 U.S. governors who say they don’t want Syrian refugees in their state.

Bentley signed an executive order Monday, directing all executive branch agencies to utilize all lawful means necessary to prevent the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the State of Alabama.

The issue has sparked debate for many, but hits home for few.

Karim Shamsi-Basha is a Christian and an Alabamian, but was born in Damascus, Syria.

Like many before him, Shamsi-Basha came to the U.S. for a new opportunity.

He was 18 years old when he told his father, “I’m going to go study in the United States, the freest place on earth.”

Shamsi-Basha had offers to study at schools in Michigan, Ohio and California. He ended up studying at the University of Tennessee.

“I was told that the south is the closest to the Middle East because they are very hospitable. I was also told the girls are the prettiest,” Shamsi-Basha joked.

Shamsi-Basha got his first job as a journalist in Birmingham in 1989. Since then, he’s made his living capturing the beauty of Alabama as a writer and photographer.

“I came and I never looked back. I don’t regret it one single bit,” Shamsi-Basha said. “I love this place.”

Shamsi-Basha considers Birmingham home. He hopes to someday share it with his sister, Mimi.

Mimi still lives in Damascus. Her visa was denied in the U.S.

“She sees people being shot,” Shamsi-Basha said. “She was driving the other day and a bomb fell not too far, and she had to change route in the car.”

For Shamsi-Basha, Gov. Bentley’s actions to keep Syrian refugees out of Alabama hit close to the heart.

“I don’t say this just because I have a sister,” Shamsi-Basha said. “There are thousands and thousands of people who had to leave Syria, because they would have died if they stayed.”

Shamsi-Basha hopes that others can experience the same hospitality he has since the 1980’s.

“I think the governor needs to take a step back and look in the eyes of some of these refugees, and just decide for himself, ‘Do I want to help them?’ I really think he should,” he said.

Copyright 2015 WIAT 42 News

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