Migrants Services Spotlight: One Endeavors Employee’s Journey To Asylum
Last Updated: 15 Mar 2021
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Basel Mousslly, Deputy Director of Migrant Services at Endeavors, shares his story of fleeing Syria and seeking asylum in the United States.
On Why People Flee Their Homes
Syria, 2011. The streets are full of professionals, shoppers, vendors, and school-age children when, all of the sudden, the sky opens up in a storm of fire and artillery. An aerial attack obliterates parked cars, blasts holes in office buildings and retail shops, and strikes down innocent civilians. When it is over, it is only just the beginning. Survivors begin digging bodies out of the rubble. The dust from the blasted buildings has turned their hair thirty years older, and for some, the noise leaves a ringing in their ears. Others stumble around with missing limbs. Horrifying doesn’t begin to describe it.
The war in Syria has now been going on for over a decade. BBC reports that in those 10 years, over 367,000 people have died (including over 123,000 civilians), and over 192,000 are missing or presumed dead. 1.5 million people have been left with a permanent disability.
Due to the conditions of the country, 6.2 million Syrians have been internally displaced. Much like coastal Texans impacted by hurricanes evacuate inland, Syrians have been forced to flee their communities to find shelter in safer, less-affected parts of the country. The main difference? It’s not Mother Nature wreaking havoc, it’s your fellow countrymen. For the 5.7 million Syrians in the most dangerous conditions, they’ve had to flee their home country entirely.
Basel Mousslly, Deputy Director of Migrant Services at Endeavors, was one of the millions who was forced to leave everything he knew behind on the promise that in a new country, he would be able to live a safe and happy life. As part of our mission to serve vulnerable people in crisis, including migrants fleeing dangerous circumstances, we sat down with Basel to learn about his experience fleeing his home country and seeking asylum in the United States.
One Man’s Calling To Serve Others
Basel Mousslly has always been a man who’s quick to lend a helping hand. As a college student in the early 2000s, and before the Syrian crisis, he volunteered with local nonprofits in Aleppo. The experience sparked a lifelong passion for helping people in need. At the time, thousands of Iraqi refugees were fleeing to Syria for safety, and Basel saw firsthand the overwhelming sense of purpose that came with helping people achieve safety and stability. He even helped to open a shelter to house refugees until the conflict settled enough for them to return home or find a new safe place to live. Despite studying business administration in college, Basel knew that social service was his calling.
But Basel never expected to be on the other side of social service — someone in need of help instead of the person giving help. “When the [Syrian] war broke out in 2011,” he remembers, “I was a volunteer at the Red Crescent.” The Red Crescent is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, a worldwide humanitarian effort to prevent and alleviate human suffering. “We responded to disasters and started to provide first aid to the wounded civilians who were left behind after shootings or other armed conflicts. As such, the government considered us connected to the organization, even though we were only providing first aid to civilians left behind.” The Syrian government, he explained, had begun to target and persecute volunteers who were serving as the boots on the ground of humanitarian efforts because they witnessed firsthand what Basel calls “the cruelty of the regime.” Many of Basel’s fellow volunteers were killed or persecuted by the Syrian government because of the volunteer work they did. “I had friends who were detained,” he shares, “friends who were tortured. And then I heard that my name had been mentioned.”
Fortunately, he had family in Lebanon, so he took only what he could fit in his backpack and fled. “I had to start from scratch,” he remembers. “I started working for a nonprofit in Lebanon helping other Syrian refugees, and that’s where I started renewing my career while also pursuing my dream to continue my education.” In addition to working, Basel worked hard studying English and applied for a student visa to the United States, where his future wife, Rana, was already studying.
(Read Basel and Rana’s beautiful love story, written by Basel, here.)
He knew the visa was a long shot. Being granted a visa was nearly impossible for Syrians in 2013. So when Basel was accepted to Houston Community College and granted his visa, he didn’t hesitate, even though it meant saying goodbye to everything he knew. Staying in Syria meant risking his life. Fleeing to the US meant leaving his home, family, friends, and most of his belongings behind. Labeling it as a courageous move is a massive understatement.
Starting Over In A New Country
While he attended school in Texas, Basel worked every job he could to pay his bills. “Uber, Jimmy Johns, cashier at a gas station…you name it,” he says. “It was a learning curve, adjusting to life [in the United States]. Everybody here works so hard to be able to live decently.”
After graduating from Houston Community College, he pursued a master’s program at Houston Baptist University. While in grad school, Basel realized the sheer scale of the refugee population in the United States, and he recognized their need for support. He took a job working for Refugee Services of Texas, but with his student visa expiring, he would soon be required to return to Syria. If that happened, he’d lose his job, his friends, and his life would be in danger once again. “I worried about going back,” he shares, “so in 2014, I applied for asylum. My case kept pending for more than six years.” During those six years, Basel and his wife had a son, moved into a nice neighborhood, and established their careers. But the asylum process is long and arduous, and Basel will never forget living every day with the stress “of possibly being deported…for six years I couldn’t get enough sleep.”
Every day, Basel would walk to his mailbox hoping to find a letter stating the outcome of his asylum case. “And then one day it was there, and it said ‘granted.’ That word is a life-changing word. Not only for me but for my family here and my family overseas. Now I have a path to citizenship.” As a married couple, Basel and Rana applied for asylum together, so when Basel’s asylum was granted, so was his wife’s. And together they’ll be able to apply to become citizens like their son, who was born in the US. “I can call the U.S. home,” he rejoices. “It’s like if you took a tree and uprooted it, and then this tree has just been waiting to be replanted. That grant of asylum was me being planted in the US.”
A Place To Call Home
Basel calls asylum a rebirth for his family. Rana, who had been a doctor in Syria, had to restart her degree in the US and has been working as a medical resident on the front lines of Covid-19, all the while living with the immense stress of potential deployment at any moment. And she’s not alone. According to a 2020 Migration Policy Institute article, “In 2018, more than 2.6 million immigrants, including 314,000 refugees, were employed as health-care workers, with 1.5 million of them working as doctors, registered nurses, and pharmacists. Immigrants are overrepresented among certain health-care occupations. Even as immigrants represent 17 percent of the overall U.S. civilian workforce, they are 28 percent of physicians and 24 percent of dentists, for example, as well as 38 percent of home health aides.”
“We have to think about immigrants and their contributions. They’re here with legitimate requests for safety,” Basel says. “They want to go through the process and legal channels, and they just want to be heard.” He tells us about first registering as a refugee in Lebanon, and that he still has the original registration paper. “I show [the paper] to people,” he says. “Because I’m a refugee and I’m not someone you should be afraid of. I’m your neighbor, I’m part of this community. This piece of paper doesn’t mean anything because we’re all living in the same community and we all want to contribute and succeed.”
For Basel, living in the US has been a welcoming experience. “I’ve been through a lot of disasters in this country, and I saw how people came together after Hurricane Harvey, regardless of immigration status. We shared meals with our neighbors and looked after each other.”
And, really, that’s what it’s all about. Looking after each other.
Supporting People In Need
“[The asylum process] worked out well for us,” Basel reflects. “But there are thousands of families in the US in similar situations waiting and needing more support.” He thinks about the many families, individuals, and unaccompanied children stuck in immigration detention centers today; their only mistake? Asking for asylum. He also thinks about families separated during the journey to the U.S. or separated at the border. “Imagine,” he prompts us, “if your son was ripped from your arms and you didn’t know which detention center he was in. That’s a true scenario. It happened to a lot of families.”
Basel is committed to keeping families together and supporting migrants on their path to asylum. Today, as the Deputy Director of our Migrant Services program at Endeavors, he is managing a team of regional managers and program directors bringing the program to fruition across multiple states. “We currently have two contracts,” Basel explains. “One is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services/ Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the other is for mental health services funded through the Department of Homeland Security.” Migrant Services also encompasses the new Eagle Lake Shelter for unaccompanied migrant children. The goal of these programs is to reunite separated families, place unaccompanied children with supportive and nurturing sponsors, and provide a wide range of services to migrants seeking asylum.
“We can help almost anyone anywhere, especially with the current remote situation,” Basel explains. “At Endeavors, innovation has no limits, and we deliver so many social services. There’s nothing better than being able to improve human lives. We provide very important services and we can provide them urgently because we can connect with our clients in so many ways like video calling or Whatsapp. Our clients always have access to our licensed clinicians.”
“That’s what makes Endeavors so unique,” Basel concludes. “We’re responding to individual needs on a national scale.”
About Basel Mousslly
Basel Mousslly is the Deputy Director for Migrant Services at Endeavors. He has over a decade of professional experience in leading teams to create, coordinate, and implement innovative programs that promote the safety and welfare of migrant families and other vulnerable populations. Basel currently oversees a portfolio of national programs provided to unaccompanied migrant children and asylum-seeking adults. Prior to joining Endeavors, Basel was the Program Manager for Migrant Services at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS). He led LIRS’s respite services offered to migrants arriving through the U.S. southern border. Additionally, Basel developed and implemented a handful of successful integration programs offered to resettled refugees domestically and displaced populations internationally.
Endeavors, a San Antonio-based nonprofit, is a longstanding national nonprofit agency that provides an array of programs and services supporting children, families, Veterans, and those struggling with mental illness, disabilities, disasters, or emergencies. Endeavors has served vulnerable people in need since 1969 through personalized services. Endeavors has served migrants since 2012. The program serves migrant populations across the country. For more information on our programs, or to get involved and make a difference in the lives of others, visit www.endeavors.org.