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Syrian family resettled in U.S. sees future for their children

The Obama administration plans to settle as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. within a year. Special correspondent Marcia Biggs meets a refugee family who fled in 2012 and have begun life over in New Jersey.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    The Obama administration’s plans to settle as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees in the U.S. within a year is coming under fire.

    In a statement released Sunday, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, both Republicans, said the Islamic State group will use the refugee crisis to try to enter the United States and that the administration doesn’t have a concrete and foolproof plan to ensure that terrorists won’t be able to enter the country.

    So far, fewer than 2,000 refugees have settled here.

    Tonight, the story of one family that recently arrived.

    Special correspondent Marcia Biggs reports.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    It’s a theme that played out all over America this month, children getting ready for their first days of school. But for this family, it’s an entirely new kind of fresh start.

    Mohamed and Amira Darbi and their three children arrived only two months ago, five of the roughly 1,700 Syrian refugees that the United States has taken in since 2011.

  • MOHAMED DARBI, Resettled Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):

    I have been in the U.S. for 50 days now, and I like it.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    “And before the 50 days?” I asked.

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    I didn’t know what America meant.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    Mohamed and Amira are from Homs, the birthplace of the Syrian revolution. He was a carpenter and she a high school physics teacher.

    All three children were small in 2011, when the revolution began and Bashar al-Assad issued a brutal crackdown on their town.

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    When they would raid the homes, we were afraid for our children, our women. We were afraid they would kidnap one of us. That’s when the fear started.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    What did you tell your children?

  • AMIRA DARBI, Resettled Syrian Refugee (through interpreter):

    The kids were very scared. They would wake up in the middle of the night and start crying. And I was worried they would develop some sort of psychological problem. The main reason I left was for my kids.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    It was 2012, when the family narrowly missed the missiles that flattened their neighborhood, that they finally fled. They waited for weeks near the border to be able to make the dangerous crossing into Jordan, running for their lives.

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    I grabbed my daughter and I ran through the checkpoint. My wife grabbed our other daughter, and we crossed even though we knew they might shoot us. It was terrifying.

  • AMIRA DARBI (through interpreter):

    This day was the most difficult of my life. I still remember it. And, sometimes, I still have nightmares about crossing that checkpoint.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    But once in Jordan, the family struggled, at first living with 200 families in a camp made only for five, without work, without legal documentation and bearing the stigma of being a refugee. The proud protector of his family, Mohamed had to think quickly on his feet.

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    I was afraid that, if anything should happen, they would send me back to Syria. So I decided to register with the UNHCR to protect myself and my children. I didn’t waste any time. I was one of the first people who registered as a Syrian refugee. And on that basis, they chose us.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    Two-and-a-half years later, they arrived here in New Jersey, where they have been living with the help of the U.S. government and Church World Service, one of nine NGOs that helps with refugee settlement.

    Tell me how you prepare for the arrival of these families.

  • MAHMOUD MAHMOUD, Church World Service:

    Well, we find the apartment. We pay for the security deposit and first month’s rent. We move furniture into the apartment, do the apartment setup, buy groceries, put it into the refrigerator so that they have food to eat. And we actually go ourselves to pick up the families from the airport for the first time, and we’re the first faces that they see upon arrival.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    So, what kind of government assistance do they receive and for how long?

  • MAHMOUD MAHMOUD:

    The social services assist them with Medicaid, so that they have health care if they need to go to the doctor for any reason up until eight months. They receive food stamps and they receive a bit of cash assistance.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    What is required of them?

  • MAHMOUD MAHMOUD:

    They must attend ESL courses for at least 35 hours a week and they must show that they’re trying to find jobs themselves as well.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    None of the family speaks English. Mohamed and Amira are enrolled in language classes. And CWS is trying to help Mohamed find a job.

    I’m sure it’s not been an easy transition. It’s a very different life here. What’s been the most difficult part?

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    When I first arrived, I immediately felt that I want to go back. The people are not my people. I don’t know how to speak, I don’t know how to walk, I don’t know how to do anything. It was strange. I was lost. My children, how am I going to register them? How am I going to work?

    I felt I wanted to go back, I don’t want to stay here. But then everything falls into place and people blend in.

  • AMIRA DARBI (through interpreter):

    The language is difficult. We’re suffering with language, but, God willing, we will learn and we will stand on our own two feet.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    What’s been the best part?

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    The best part about it for me is that I can move around freely. There’s no sense of imprisonment. I take the kids around.

    The kids were stripped away from going to parks, to rivers, to the malls, to go shopping. And now they’re back to school and life came back to them. For me, that was the best thing, when I saw that their future came back to them. To me, that’s worth the entire world.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    What’s touched you the most about these Syrian families?

  • MAHMOUD MAHMOUD:

    I believe it’s their drive to continue despite what they have been through. Their work ethic is really tremendous. They want to be here. They want to be productive and active individuals in the community.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    All the children are enrolled in school now, 5-year-old Shakad for the first time, 12-year-old Hajar and 13-year-old Nabiha with the help of an interpreter. Hajar and Nabiha say their favorite part about being in the U.S. is finally feeling like they belong.

    What is the best thing about school today?

  • NABIHA:

    Math. You like math?

  • HAJAR:

    Science?

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    And what do you want to be when you grow up?

  • HAJAR:

    A doctor.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    You want to be a doctor?

  • NABIHA:

    Engineer

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    You want to be an engineer?

  • HAJAR (through interpreter):

    In Jordan, they used to tell us, you’re Syrian. Go away from us. Don’t talk to us. And they separated the Jordanians and Syrians at school. Why did that have to be? Aren’t we all human beings? Aren’t we all one?

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    What is school like for you here?

  • HAJAR (through interpreter):

    You feel like you are the same, not like in Jordan. We’re all one and the same at school. For example, the teacher doesn’t get upset with you because you’re Syrian. She doesn’t shout at you because you’re Syrian. She treats us like everyone else in class.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    How did it feel to put your kids on the school bus for the first day of school here in the United States?

  • MOHAMED DARBI (through interpreter):

    Of course, when I see my children going to school, and they’re going to build their future, I’m going to be the happiest.

  • For me, I see no future. I’m 42 years old. I will barely make a living and provide for them a decent life. The future is theirs. When they came back from school yesterday, I asked them, “How was your day?” They said:

    “We were really happy. We had such a fun day.”

    For me, that’s beautiful.

  • MARCIA BIGGS:

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Marcia Biggs in Jersey City, New Jersey.

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