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Syrian Refugee Meets Ambassador Samantha Power In Germany

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now, the latest chapter in a story that we began telling you last summer.

MONZER OMAR: Hello, my name is Monzer Omar. I'm coming from Syria.

SHAPIRO: In Berlin last week, Monzer Omar met with America's ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power. We'll hear from her in a few minutes. The first time I met Omar was in coastal Turkey in August. He was sitting on a flattened cardboard box on the sidewalk in the city of Izmir with a crowd of other Syrians. I asked if he would let us follow along on his journey. He was waiting for a phone call from a human smuggler.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

OMAR: We'll be ready - five minutes.

SHAPIRO: Five minutes?

OMAR: Five minutes. Get ready and go in the night to the beach - get, get, get, get.

SHAPIRO: More than a million people have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life in Europe. Monzer Omar is just one of them. NPR reporters tracked each stage of his trip through Greece, Macedonia, Serbia. In Hungary, he talked about how much he missed his parents.

OMAR: Maybe I will never see them again, but my wife and daughter - I hope I will see them in near future.

SHAPIRO: By bus and by foot, Omar continued on through Austria and Germany. He told us he believed God helped carry him.

OMAR: You can't live without religion. Christian, Jewish, Muslim - it's something good to have a faith in your heart, as a human.

SHAPIRO: That was October. Then, just last week, UN Ambassador Samantha Power visited Germany and wanted to meet some Syrian refugees. She had heard Monzer Omar's story and asked if we could connect them. So he took part in a roundtable with other refugees, led by the ambassador. And while he was there, our producer in Berlin sat down with Monzer Omar to catch up on his new life in Germany. He told us he doesn't have a work permit yet. He lives in an apartment with several other Syrian refugees. He spends his days studying German and trying to work through the overwhelming bureaucracy. And when he tries to speak English or Arabic, people tell him...

OMAR: You are in Deutschland. You should learn Deutsch. Of course I know that. I'm doing my best.

SHAPIRO: Deutsch meaning German. His wife and children are still in Syria. His youngest was born after he left, but the 4-year-old girl remembers him. And she says, Baba, I miss you.

OMAR: It's difficult for me to be here and them there. You can't hug them. You can't see them. You can't kiss them.

SHAPIRO: He thought it would be maybe six months until the family was reunited in Germany, but he left Syria close to a year ago, and he still doesn't see a good way to get them out.

OMAR: Maybe my family will die. Maybe my children will die, OK? What's the use of coming here? I came here just to help them. What's the use if I come here and I lose my family?

SHAPIRO: Last week, after her meeting with refugees, I spoke with Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN. And first, I asked how Monzer Omar seemed.

SAMANTHA POWER: Well, on the one hand, he's getting settled in Germany. On the other hand, he's away from his three kids, and I think his heart is breaking.

SHAPIRO: When you talk to a group of refugees like the people you met with in Berlin, what does that tell you about the role the U.S. needs to play that isn't happening already?

POWER: Well, the desire among Syrians to leave Syria or to leave the camps around Syria in the neighboring countries is greater than the number of resettlement slots. So it's incredibly important that more countries open their doors, that we get our numbers up as best we can. Even though the world has never actually been more generous in the face of displacement, the generosity is not keeping up with the need

SHAPIRO: The U.S. has been generous in money, but not in admitting Syrian refugees. Out Of millions of displaced Syrians, the U.S. has only taken in a few thousand. Ambassador Power told me the international community needs to give more help to Syria's neighbors, like Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, each of which has already taken in more Syrians than all of the European Union combined.

POWER: Families who were living outside Syria in the neighboring countries began to see their rations cut by as much as half - in some cases, cut altogether. We've given more than $5 billion in humanitarian assistance just for Syria alone, but it just wasn't keeping up, so people took to the road. They took to the seas. There's been huge loss of life on the high seas, but you still have people like Monzer, who's desperate to be reunited with his family and who's trying to get his kids and his wife in the queue in order to get them to Germany. And I know that's something that the German government is trying to make happen, but it can't be the case that the entire population of Syria moves to Germany

SHAPIRO: Ambassador Power says, ultimately, Syrian families will have to choose whether to opt for resettlement.

OMAR: But it was hardly freedom of choice when your - you know, when your choice is get barrel-bombed by Assad or go to a camp in one of the neighboring countries and be unable to feed your family or entrust your life and your family's life to a smuggler. Those are not the choices that - that should be available to people in the 21st century. We have to do better.

SHAPIRO: Monzer Omar told us, now that he's in Germany, relatives in Syria ask him for advice on making the journey. He told his brother-in-law, don't do what I did. If you have to come, bring your family with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.