A family of Syrian refugees landed Friday at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport in New Hampshire, completing a journey that almost never happened.
The Mahmoud family was originally scheduled to arrive only days after President Trump signed his executive order on immigration. The temporary ban stopped travel for people from seven predominately Muslim countries and indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.
With the nationwide stay on Trump’s order upheld Thursday by a federal appeals court, the family boarded a plane in Turkey and headed for their new home in Lowell.
Jeff Thielman, CEO of the International Institute of New England, a refugee resettlement agency in Lowell, greeted the Mahmouds at baggage claim at the airport.
Twenty-four-year-old Rashid speaks for the family when he says it’s been a long journey.
“Exhausted,” he said. “Just tired.”
Tears fill his mother Zeinab’s eyes and a weary smile spreads across her face. Rashid interpreted, saying they left most of their family behind in Syria.
“We are so happy but a little bit she is thinking about parents, our relatives there,” he said. “Two of my aunts stay there. In additional, my granddad and grandmother.”
While the future of the president’s executive order remains to be seen, the future of families like the Mahmouds hang in the balance.
Originally from a village north of Aleppo, the family fled the conflict in Syria in 2012 and headed for Turkey. They kept traveling until they found work in Izmir, a city on the Aegean coast. Rashid cleaned and delivered carpets and his younger brother worked in the market. Their father, an elementary school teacher in Syria, worked in a shoe factory while the family applied for refugee status.
When they learned two weeks ago that they were headed for Lowell, they quit their jobs, sold their belongings and gave away their rental home. The day they were headed to Istanbul en route to the U.S., they received a call. They were to remain in Izmir.
“When the order came, we stayed in Izmir, we couldn’t come to Istanbul,” Rashid said. “We stayed — out of jobs, out of everything. It was a hard feeling because you don’t know [if] you will work again, or you will make progress. You don’t know, you are waiting. Even you can’t sleep, it was so hard.”
With no jobs and no home, they stayed with relatives and waited.
Meanwhile, Jeff Thielman and his colleagues at the resettlement agency in Lowell were told the family’s trip was canceled. The agency released the apartment they were holding for them to another refugee family. The agency could do nothing but wait for further direction from the government.
And then, a few days ago, the Mahmoud family got another call.
“Just before three days, they call us and they give us the good news about travel and it was still shocking. I said, ‘Everything is going to be OK or not?'”
But this time, everything was OK. They boarded the plane and made it to the U.S.
Their journey isn’t yet over — for the next few days, they’ll be staying with a host family in Belmont before moving into a new apartment in Lowell.