By Andy Weir, Immigrant Connect Staff

Most people know Hyde Park as home to the University of Chicago, but for some Syrian refugees, Hyde Park is also their new home.

A college neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago may not immediately come to mind when thinking of the ideal place to settle refugees, but Suzanne Sahloul, founder and president of the Syrian Community Network, said that Hyde Park is actually a perfect fit for these new refugees.

“It’s a tight-knit community, and it’s unique because there are schools, there’s the university, and there’s a hospital, and life revolves around these things,” she said. “Everything seems to be close by. There are a lot of business there. There are a lot of restaurants as well, so refugees can benefit from that.”

Students at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park are among those helping refugees stay in touch with loved ones back in Syria as they transition to a new life in Chicago.

But Hyde Park was not the first choice for a neighborhood in which to settle Syrian refugees. Rogers Park on the Northside was originally where many new refugees were settled, but with last summer’s surge in Syrian refugee entry into the U.S., Rogers Park was running out of apartments for new refugees.

“Many landlords don’t want to rent to refugees, because they assume they’re high risk, not going to pay their rent, and not have a job, so it can be hard to find housing for refugees,” Sahloul said.

World Relief Chicago, a refugee resettlement agency, was able to find two apartments in Hyde Park and connect some new refugees with resources there. As more refugees arrived, the resources expanded.

It may not be Damascus but Hyde Park is home

Many of the refugees still have much vested in Syria, like family and friends, and came to the U.S. out of necessity, not by choice.

One refugee, Zakaria, came to the U.S. to escape the devastation in SyrIa. Much of his home in Syria was destroyed in the civil war there.

Speaking for Zakaria, Sahloul said, “[His family] came here to build their future and they’re not here to cause chaos or destruction. They’re here so that they can live with dignity.”

Dignity is important for many of the refugees. Despite the recent political rhetoric and uncertainty, Sahloul said that many Syrian refugees were surprised at how friendly and welcoming Americans have been to them.

“What they found in the American people, their warm welcome in receiving [them], has really touched their hearts, and that goes against everything that was given to them,” Sahloul said.

[Listen to the difference a little connection can mean.]

Another refugee, Hisham, lived in Jordan for four years before arriving in the U.S. His son has a heart condition, and although Hisham did not make much money in Jordan, he paid for two surgeries for his son. Neither was successful.

“When [Hisham] got this opportunity to come here, thinking about the future of his son and his health, he decided that he could not pass on this opportunity because he knows that, here, his son will be helped,” Sahloul said.

Hoda also sought to escape the violence there.

Her home, just outside of Damascus, was hit as part of the 2013 gas attack in which 14,000 people died instantly. While she and her family survived, many of her friends are relatives were killed. For her, safety and stability are what drove her to the U.S.

“Here, there’s a future for their children,” Sahloul said.

Though for many of the refugees, their children are the primary reason they came to the U.S., many of them also had to leave family and friends behind in Syria to start a new life in the U.S.

“Especially given the uncertainty surrounding safety in Syria, it is more important now more than ever that these refugees stay connected with their family from home,” Sahloul said.

A combination of students and organizations in and around Hyde Park are helping the refugees not only assimilate but also stay connected with their loved ones back in Syria.