Ali Zwayen was hanging out with five friends in a school in Damascus, Syria, in 2012.
Suddenly, men who appeared to be Islamic State fighters burst in with weapons, Zwayen recalled.
The kids took off. Zwayen was the first to reach a wall, and he leaped over it to safety. His friends didn’t make it.
“All my friends were killed,” Zwayen said. “It was scary.” He doesn’t know why his school was targeted.
Five years later, Zwayen, now 19, is a senior at Borah High School in the Boise School District. His family fled war, first from his native Iraq to Syria, where they had hoped to find safety. When that country was torn by civil war, they made their way to Turkey and finally the United States as refugees two years ago, Zwayen said.
In the United States, Zwayen has discovered a new kind of mistrust — based on where he came from and the Muslim faith he holds
But he refuses to give in, or give up.
300 Number of Boise School District students who come from the seven majority-Muslim countries named in President Trump’s immigration ban.
As debate, anger, rancor and court fights over President Donald Trump’s immigration ban occupy much of his adopted nation’s time, Zwayen said he is optimistic.
“I still believe that people who think we are bad ... one day they will think we are good people,” he said.
The Boise School District hasn’t encountered any serious incidents in the days since Trump’s order prompted nationwide protests and lit up Twitter, Facebook and some tempers.
The Idaho Statesman spoke with several refugee students and a Muslim student with Pakistani roots who is a U.S. citizen about their feelings as the country comes to grips with Trump’s order.
For Ali Zwayen, life isn’t about immigration. He has his studies, including history and American government, to concentrate on. And he’s thinking about a college career beyond high school, with hopes of getting into Boise State University and then either Michigan State University or the University of Texas to major in oil engineering.
But it is perplexing for him to find people mistrustful of refugees like him.
“We are not bad people,” he said. “We didn’t hurt anyone. That is why we (left) my country, because of war.”
YEAR ONE IN AMERICA
Ghadah Al Gburi, 15, started her new life in America on New Year’s Day 2016, after a six-year odyssey that took her and her family from Iraq to Syria to Turkey and finally to Idaho.
“America was my dream,” said the Hillside Junior High School eighth-grader.
I work hard at school to learn English
Ghadah Al Gburi, 15, an Iraqi refugee
Al Gburi is enrolled in the district’s Bridge program, which helps refugee students in junior high and high school get their education while improving their English skills. She is among more than 1,000 refugee students in the district today from around the globe: the Middle East, Africa, Asia, South America and Mexico, to name a few places.
Al Gburi lives in Boise with her parents, an older sister and two younger brothers. The siblings all are being treated for a genetic disorder, part of the reason the Al Gburis came to the United States.
Her family wanted to escape war and find a place where they could get medicine for her brothers and sister, Al Gburi said.
She speaks of America in a soft voice that belies a resolute passion to never let go of her new homeland.
“When I come here I am so happy,” she said. “I found my life and my future. I can be (a) teacher or doctor. I go to school. I can find medicine for my brothers.”
She has cousins back in Iraq, but there is no plan to visit them.
“I’m so scared if I go to my country, I can’t come back,” she said. “They can’t come here.” Iraq is one of seven countries under Trump’s order that halts migration to the U.S. until more thorough screening is in place.
Al Gburi is troubled by Trump’s decision to close the door to Iraqis and others who want to come to this country.
“When he says that, it hurts too many people,” she said.
Al Gburi and some members of her family joined a protest over Trump’s order at the Boise Airport on Sunday.
I don’t think banning immigrants is going to help national security.
Amara Tariq, 17, Borah High senior
“I wanted to talk,” she said.
And as she was getting ready for an interview with the Statesman, she said fellow refugee students came up to her with some advice.
“They told me to stay strong and say, ‘We like to stay here.’ ”
A KINSHIP WITH REFUGEES
Amara Tariq, a 17-year-old senior at Borah High School, isn’t a refugee. She’s a citizen born in America to parents from Pakistan.
But she feels a connection to refugee students, many from the Middle East, because they share a common religion and because she is distressed by what is happening to Muslims around her.
“I think it is really scary,” she said. “Just knowing the effect it has on our community.”
She says some are worried they will be attacked in grocery stores.
Tariq dismisses the idea that terrorists are Muslims. They may describe themselves that way, she said, but it is “not what any religion stands for.”
She said she’s heard Trump talk about a “Muslim registry,” which would be more fearful than a ban on immigration. “We are all human. We are no different.”
She said she is pleased with the support she’s gotten from many people in Idaho, including the 600 who rallied at the Boise Airport on Sunday.
“That shows a lot of people care about us,” Tariq said.