OBETZ, Ohio – With immigration and refugees from Syria very present in the national zeitgeist, Columbus Crew SC fans don’t have to look far to see the results of immigration in their own team.
Star striker Kei Kamara left war-torn Sierra Leone at 16 and came to America through the US Refugee Admissions Program.
He remembered the day in 2000 as “the happiest day of our lives.”
“It wasn’t just me, it was hundreds of people on that flight,” he said. “And every single one of us were just so happy to get out of a war-torn country and know that we’re going somewhere where things were going to be stable, and we were going to be able to live a better life.
“Everybody goes in and if you get approved, you come out with a little bag. You get approved and coming out, you just start dancing. Everybody just knows, ‘Yes, I qualified,’ while everyone else is outside is just so nervous and waiting to see if you qualified.”
He remembers everyone was like a family on their ride to America.
“We all knew we all had that chance, finally, to leave,” he said.
Kamara would become a US citizen, but continued to represent Sierra Leone on the national team through this season.
Crew SC winger Justin Meram was born in Michigan, but both of his parents were immigrants from Iraq, the national team he represents.
He said the current state of the world has loved ones concerned for his safety on trips with Iraq, but he isn’t worrying.
“My parents, friends, family are always worrying for my safety,” he said. “I tell them all the time, ‘I don’t think you’re safe anywhere at this moment.’ You start wondering, ‘Can I do this or that because of safety?’ and you’re not living. You have to obviously not put yourself in certain positions, but you have to go on with your daily lives.”
And though he’s the son of two immigrants, Meram understands the difference in opinion many have over the issue of refugees.
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“It’s a tough situation going on in this world right now where everywhere you look – your hometown, in the state next to you, in the country next to you – something is going on,” he said. “It’s disappointing, [the idea of] holding back the refugees. But at the same time, when you look at what’s going on in the world, there are problems and there are a lot of people dying. That affects everyone as well, and I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer.”
But for Kamara, the idea of an American dream that he’s lived could ring true for many others who are trying to come to the States.
“For me, the US is a land of opportunities,” he said. “They say that, but it’s not just written, it’s really true. To lend a hand to people that are suffering and struggling, it’s the best thing you can ever do.”