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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.”