Syrian Refugee Family Arrives In New Jersey To Start New Life
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
Today the Obama administration said it had reached a goal of bringing 10,000 Syrian refugees to the United States within this fiscal year, which ends September 30. It's a move that overcame political opposition to resettling any Syrians. Activists and some members of Congress have observed that Canada has taken in more than twice as many refugees as the U.S., and European countries have taken in many more.
In a moment, we'll get reaction from the head of the International Rescue Committee, but we start with the recent scene in New Jersey where NPR's Deborah Amos saw one Syrian family's arrival.
DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: A new life in America for one Syrian family is set to begin in the arrival hall at Newark's international airport. Syrian-American Kenan Chater and his son Mahmoun are waiting to greet close relatives devastated by war. It's a personal welcome late at night without flags or fanfare.
KENAN CHATER: Needless to say, last night, I couldn't sleep. I can't wait to see them. I can't wait to get them over here and try to get as many as I can over here just to give them the opportunity to live - just to live, you know?
AMOS: For the refugee relatives, it's the final leg of travel that began more than 24 hours earlier but truly began two years ago when they were forced to flee their violent country.
CHATER: What am I going to feed them? What am I not going to feed them (laughter)? You should see my fridge now (laughter).
AMOS: Every refugee has a story. This family fled to Thailand first, the only visa the frantic parents could get after their youngest son survived a second bomb attack on his school. Overwhelmed by violent nightmares, he was mute for months. The boy's trauma helped move this family up the list for refugee resettlement.
At the airport, 8-year-old Mahmoun considers what he'll say about America when his young cousin arrives.
MAHMOUN CHATER: It's a nice place. Everybody's kind. There's no war. There might be a place where you can go to school. He only went to school for first grade. That's it.
AMOS: Boy, he's got a lot of catching up to do.
MAHMOUN: I know. He saw two bombings happen to his school.
AMOS: That's kind of scary.
MAHMOUN: Yeah. He's lucky to still be alive.
AMOS: But not all the family is arriving. Two young-adult children have not been approved yet and are stuck in Thailand. Chater says it's heartbreaking for their mom to leave them behind.
CHATER: To be honest, this is kind of bittersweet because she's happy to come here and give a better opportunity for her younger kids, but at the same time, she's got to leave her two kids there.
AMOS: It's another delay. We wait at an airport coffee shop. It's almost midnight now.
Is that them?
AMOS: The heavy doors open. The last passengers finally arrive.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Crying).
AMOS: With kisses and tears, Chater and his son are the welcome-to-America committee in the empty airport hall. For a brief moment, the trauma of the past few years is replaced by relief in this safe haven for at least four members of the Allaham family.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Foreign language spoken).
AMOS: When I meet both families again at home the next day, no one has slept since the airport arrival. Mahmoun is upstairs with his Syrian cousins. The common language is computer.
MAHMOUN: I taught Mazen so much English. Look.
CHATER: It's the first day. He's got to get himself settled.
AMOS: I meant to ask you something.
CHATER: Yeah, please.
AMOS: What did they eat last night?
CHATER: Pizza - Domino's. It was the only thing open (laughter). I was, like, oh, your first experience is going to be Domino's. I felt so bad (laughter). But they enjoyed it. They had a good time.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR BELL)
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I need to get the door. Excuse me.
AMOS: Officials from the Refugee Resettlement Agency have arrived. Doha Allaham and her husband, Ismail, are entitled to limited financial support for a few months. The kids will enroll in school soon.
Ali, the 9-year-old once silenced by trauma, takes it all in eyes wide open when he hears about school. When he sees my microphone, he wants to say something. It turns out it's about his sister.
ALI ALLAHAM: I cry. My sister no come in America.
AMOS: And you cried?
AMOS: But are you happy now?
ALLAHAM: OK, not now.
AMOS: OK, not now - it's a measure of the difficulty refugees face. There's still a long family separation ahead. Deborah Amos NPR News, Newark, N.J. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.