Rilind Abazi with three Syrian children in Kosovo.

Rilind Abazi with three Syrian children in Kosovo.

Rilind Abazi was only a baby when he and his family fled Kosovo for Macedonia during his country’s war in the late ’90s.

“We were received by a family of strangers, we didn’t know them, but we’ve become family friends,” said Abazi. And now he’s trying to return the favor.

After moving to Newtown four years ago, the 18-year-old has been teaching his peers about the Syrian refugee crisis, and also helping refugees directly.

He’s raised money for Syrian families, created a video talking about the refugee crisis, and this summer he returned to Kosovo, where he visited a Syrian family that had resettled there. He recorded some of his conversations, including one with eight-year old Hamid.

“Syria no good, Syria no good. Syria boom boom. Me like Kosovo,” said Hamid.

Abazi learned all about their journey, how they fled Syria for Iraq, then to Turkey, then to Greece, and finally to Kosovo.

“I talked about their hope for the future, their fears, you really understand they’re not different from you, in terms of what they want from life, what they want for their children for example. What they want, in terms of a normal life — you go to work, you’re home with your family, you spend time with friends, it’s just the typical life I guess anyone would want.”

One of his main goals through his advocacy, he says, is humanizing the Syrian people, who are sometimes cast as terrorists, or anti-American. He says it’s not only a legal and moral imperative to take in refugees, but it’s also a strategic foreign policy move.

“If we just leave them, with no options, there are other factors, such as terrorist organizations, that can be more active and recruit people when they are in a vulnerable state, as some refugees are.”

This fall, Abazi is off to George Washington University in Washington D.C. He’s not sure exactly what he’ll study, but he says he’ll continue advocating for the rights of the most vulnerable.

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