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After court rulings, Syrian refugees board flights to U.S.

Together, Syria’s immediate neighbors of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan host the majority of Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn homeland in the past six years. During the last 24 hours, refugees with approved visas to come to the U.S. have started boarding flights again. Reporter Jane Arraf in Jordan’s capital Amman joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    Together, Syria's immediate neighbors — Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan — host the majority of Syrian refugees who have fled their war-torn homeland in the past six years. In the past 24 hours, refugees with approved visas to come to the U.S. have started to board flights again.

    Reporter Jane Arraf is in Jordan's capital, Amman, and joins me by Skype for that part of the story.

    This has been a tumultuous week for these people who have been fairly anxious and waiting a couple of years sometimes to get to the U.S.

  • JANE ARRAF, REPORTER:

    Absolutely. It has been a really difficult journey or pretty much all of them. A lot of them here have left Syria and really perilous circumstances. They try to eke out a living here, most of them outside the refugee camps. And after two years of vetting and interviews and hoping and waiting, when they thought they had it made, some of them on their way to the airport, Hari, they were called and told that wasn't going to happen.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    So, have any of the families that you've been speaking with and reporting through this week, have any of them gotten a phone call so to speak to say, "OK, we know your bags are already packed, go ahead and go back to the airport now"?

  • ARRAF:

    They started getting those phone calls this afternoon. Just after the travel ban was rescinded at least temporarily. They started receiving phone calls from a U.N. agency that actually moves refugees, the International Organization for Migration, and the first calls were, would you be able and willing to leave tomorrow? And, of course, a lot of them said, "I will leave right now."

    I mean, these are people who have sold their belongings, they packed their bags, some of them have nowhere to stay. And so, given the choice of being in limbo or leaving in the next few hours, they chose the next few hours.

    So, just a few hours from now a lot, some of them will be arriving at the airports bound for flights, and again, another long journey through several stops, to New York, Chicago and other places. So, those are the first of the refugees that are going to be traveling after this travel ban was rescinded.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    And as you mentioned not only have they packed up, but they have also left their jobs in many cases because they were expecting to be in the United States by this week?

  • ARRAF:

    Well, the reason that it is so precarious for refugees in this region is they're not allowed to legally work. So, while a lot of the Iraqis who had been accepted under the special program for military interpreters and people who worked for U.S. companies in Iraq were in that position, a lot of the people here were essentially working illegally as laborers, and you see academics who are trying to make a living working in construction sites. You see former teachers working as maids. None of that is really legal in Jordan, for instance, which is the biggest refugee processing center.

    But I did speak to one Iraqi who left earlier because the U.S. has allowed those under a special program to leave over the past couple of days, and he had left his job, he had left everything. I spoke to another refugee in Beirut, who still hadn't been notified about whether their travel would be rescheduled, his mother has cancer and she needs treatment and she doesn't know when they will be able to travel or if they will be able to travel.

    Here in you Jordan, a lot of the refugees have been saving their money and selling everything and saving up for the trip itself.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    Now, how easy is it for them to be canceled from a flight and then what purchase a brand-new ticket again? These are pretty expensive.

  • ARRAF:

    They are pretty expensive. So, the way it works for refugees is the IOM, the International Organization for Migration, which is the U.N. agency, puts them on a flight and those tickets are paid for, but they have to pay them back.

    So, while some of them, particularly the ones in the programs for special visas, for people who work for U.S. companies, can go on their own and purchase their own tickets. The vast majority of them are going on flights that are organized and paid for initially by the IOM, but they do have to pay that money back once they're on their feet in the United States.

  • SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Jane Arraf joining us via Skype from Amman, Jordan, tonight — thanks so much.

  • ARRAF:

    Thank you.

    END

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