by Matt Katz
One of the myriad tour groups winding its way through Manhattan this week is not made up of your typical camera-toting, wide-eyed tourists from the Midwest. Instead, these moms, dads and babies (including a 20-day-old boy) are Syrian refugees who fled civil war and resettled in recent months in Elizabeth, NJ.
Groups of them are arriving each morning in Manhattan to learn about everything from Madison Square Garden (“where one of the most famous Muslim athletes had many of his events…Mohammed Ali”) to the Empire State Building (“when it was built, it was the tallest building in the world”).
Some of the 150 Syrians taking part in the tours spent years stuck in Jordan. Now, they’re blending into the Big Apple panoramic — passing street musicians and the homeless, a model doing a photoshoot and someone smoking marijuana.
Yet all Mohammed Abdul-Aziz, 10, was focused on was how big the buildings were. “Oh my gosh, so big!”
Mohammed said he liked everything about New York. “Everything big,” he said. “And New York is very nice. Me happy.”
Luke Miller of Real New York Tours is offering the tours for free because he said he felt helpless as the refugee crisis unfolded. “And then it kind of occurred to me: Let’s do what we do every day,” he said. “Let’s welcome people to New York. That’s what we do best.”
Miller reached out to the Muslim humanitarian organization ICNA Relief, which connected him to the Syrians and provided volunteer translators for the tours.
Mohammed’s dad, Shaker Abdul-Aziz, brought his six children. He owned a supermarket back in Syria, and dreams of having one here in the U.S. “I been here 10 months,” he said. “I am very happy in America.”
Donors paid for the refugees’ train fare into the city, MetroCards and their lunch of New York pizza. The tours go all the way to Battery Park City, with a view of the Statue of Liberty. But along the way there are several firsts, including a subway ride to Central Park.
The children ran through the park to the carousel. They didn’t notice a small sign at the entrance that read: Trump Carousel.
President Trump’s company operates the facility. Miller called the fact that a group of giddy Syrians were now riding Trump’s horses “divine justice.”
“This is perfect,” he said.
WNYC New York Public Radio