Photo diary: Homs family finds a new home in Illinois

by @icoverbysadaf December 8, 2015 5:00AM ET

Amid fierce US debate over accepting Syrian refugees, one family in a Chicago suburb is grateful to be here

Syrian Refugees
Rami Abou Jabr, 37, right rear, with his family: from left, his wife, Rajaa, 24; daughter, Huda, 4; sister Haya, 21; mother, Huda, 59; sister Nada, 36; son, Abdul Karim, 6; and brother, Raed, 30. They live in two apartments in Aurora, Illinois, obtained with the help of World Relief, a humanitarian group founded by the National Association of Evangelicals.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America

AURORA, Ill. — When Rami Abou Jabr and his family fled their home in Homs, Syria, there was no time to think about what the future held.

“We fled Syria with only the clothes on our back,” says Abou Jabr, 37, who now lives in Aurora. “We only had time to grab our children and escape for safety. We are together, and that is all that matters.”  

Like many Syrian families fleeing the fighting, the Abou Jabr clan went to Turkey. They were among the lucky ones: Middle-class, they were able to afford an exorbitant car ride from the Syrian port city of Latakia to Istanbul, where they lived for three years. And in 2015, their petition for asylum in the United States was granted. This summer they were settled in Aurora.

Two months after they received the keys to a pair of adjacent two-bedroom apartments in Aurora, a suburb of Chicago, gunmen staged assaults in and around Paris, killing 130 people. The presence of a Syrian passport near the body of one of the attackers triggered an immediate backlash in Europe and the United States, where many Republican presidential candidates and members of Congress have called for President Barack Obama to abandon his administration’s proposal to take in 10,000 Syrian refugees next year.  

Fear of reprisals is not uncommon among the few Syrian families already here. Nearly 2,300 refugees from Syria have settled in the U.S. since the conflict began in 2011.

For Abou Jabr, the Paris attacks were a terrible tragedy. “I feel real sad about what happened,” he says. But, he adds, “it would be wrong if the United States did not accept any more refugees, because we need to get them to a safe place and give each child an opportunity for education. There are no more schools for those kids in Syria to go to.”

The neighborhood where he lives now isn’t affluent; the day Al Jazeera America visited, a mattress was lying outside on the lawn the family shares with neighbors, and he says that every weekend in the apartment complex, music blares and people drink alcohol in public. But he and his family are safe, and he has hope for the future, he says. And since Americans accepted him and his family, maybe they will accept some more of his countrymen. “I didn’t think the people here is very nice until I saw,” he says ruefully, until “I came to here and I saw them.”

Rami and Rajaa leave the local Social Security office. In Syria, he worked as a veterinarian. He is the only member of the family who speaks English.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Rajaa speaks to her mother using the text messaging and calling app Whatsapp. Her mother is living in a refugee camp in Munich, after crossing from Turkey to Greece in a small inflatable raft.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Huda and Abdul Karim share a bedroom in one of the family’s two apartments. She attends preschool at a church, and he is in kindergarten at the local public school. Their parents have great confidence in the U.S. school system. “We are excited for our children’s future here,” says Rami.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Haya works at a plastics manufacturer for the automobile industry in Illinois. She works an eight-hour shift six days a week. Most of her co-workers are Hispanic or Iraqi.
David Carey
Rajaa and Rami shop for groceries at Cermak Fresh Market in Aurora. World Relief has provided the family with three months’ worth of rent and food stamps. After that, they will be have to cover those expenses. He is confident that if family members can continue to work, they will be able to handle the cost of groceries and rent.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Haya prays in one of the apartments. “In spite of having faced such turmoil, calamity, having lost loved ones, our house and belongings,” she says, “God helped us … God gave us hope, all praise due to him. We are grateful for a second chance in America.”
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Haya with a photo of her fiancé, who lives in Saudi Arabia. They hope to wed after she gets a green card, allowing him join her in the U.S.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
Huda and Raed, who has a developmental disability and does not leave their apartment on his own. When Rami fled Syria in 2012, his father, Abdul Karim, was too sick from kidney disease to travel, so he and Huda stayed behind. As the situation in Homs worsened, he couldn’t get regular medical treatment, and he died in February 2013. His death had a profound impact on Raed, who was very close to his father. Huda left Syria that April.
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America
“We thank God we were able to come to the U.S.,” Rami says. “We are grateful for the opportunity to work. All Syrians want is what everybody deserves — a safe and comfortable living, a future for their children.”
Sadaf Syed / Al Jazeera America