U.S. move offers bittersweet hope to struggling Syrian family

Father of three from Homs says resettlement from Jordan to U.S. will provide a future for his children, despite pain of leaving loved ones behind.

Syrian refugee Firas al Ahmad, 30, looks out of the window at his father's house in Irbid, Jordan, the day before he left for the United States.  © UNHCR/Houssam Hariri

IRBID, Jordan – As he packed his family’s belongings into four large suitcases just hours before departing for a new life in Dallas, Texas, 30-year-old Syrian refugee Firas al Ahmad said he felt like he was being torn in two.

“I’m leaving because of my kids, for their future. I hope they can get a good education and have a better life than the one that I have lived,” Firas said. “The hardest part is that I am leaving my family behind, especially my father.”

Together with his wife Samira and their three children, the former car mechanic from rural Homs was staying at his father’s small apartment in the northern Jordanian city of Irbid before boarding a flight to the United States, where the young family is being resettled.

“I’m leaving because of my kids, for their future. I hope they can get a good education and have a better life." 

Sitting together on low cushions spread around edge of the bare living room, Firas and his father Hammoud exchanged few words as they sipped glasses of sweet tea and counted down the hours until saying their goodbyes. As Firas described his feelings about the journey ahead, both men bowed their heads to hide their tears.

The conflict in Syria is approaching its sixth tragic anniversary in March. Firas and his family are among a tiny minority of the 4.9 million Syrians currently living as refugees in neighbouring countries in the region selected for resettlement each year.

Jordan: Syrian family prepares for a new life in Texas

Resettlement programmes in the United States and other developed countries are designed to offer a lifeline to the most vulnerable refugees, including children at risk, survivors of torture and those with medical needs. Last year governments offered 140,000 resettlement places for refugees globally, and in total less than one per cent of the world’s refugees are ever resettled.

Firas and his family fled to Jordan at the end of 2013 with his father, brothers and aunt. As the fighting intensified around their homes near Homs, work dried up and it became impossible for them to afford even the most basic essentials. “We left because our kids could have been killed at any moment,” Samira explained.

The last three years as refugees in Jordan have been tough on the family, with the lack of legal work opportunities making each day a struggle to get by. With no prospect of an improvement in their situation, Firas said he had no hesitation when UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, contacted him early last year about possible resettlement in the United States.

What followed was an intensive year-long process of UNHCR selection interviews, medical checks and security screening by U.S. federal agencies including the FBI and Department for Homeland Security. Once complete, they were told that their resettlement had been approved and began the process of selling their furniture and moving out of their apartment in Shobak, 200 kilometres south of the capital Amman.

“Syria is everything, it is everything to me. The minute the war is over I will go back."

To those in the United States and elsewhere who fear that refugees pose a threat to security, Firas stressed that he and others like him were the ones fleeing from danger.

He hopes he can put his skills to use and find work as a mechanic once they settle in Dallas. But if it had not been for the conflict that drove them from their homes, and the hardship of exile in Jordan, he said he never would have considered moving to the United States and starting all over again.

“Syria is everything, it is everything to me. The minute the war is over I will go back. Even now I wish it would end today, before we leave, so that we could go home.”

The family is now in the United States.

Additional reporting by Houssam Hariri in Jordan.