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A second chance at happiness for this refugee family

By Divya Amladi
“For me the American dream is actually not about me at all, it is about my children and my children's future. In our culture the father is supposed raise the children so they live a better life than he did. I came here pretty late in life so I don't expect much for me. But my kids, they came here early in life so I want to guarantee that they have a successful future here in the United States.” Ghassan Shehadeh was resettled in Maryland from Syria in 2015. Photo: Chris Gregory/Oxfam

Violence, persecution, and war have forced more than 65 million people to flee their homes. For Ghassan Shehadeh, leaving his country and everything he knew behind was a difficult decision, but one that was necessary for his family's safety. 

Born and raised in Damascus, Syria, Ghassan Shehadeh says he was torn about leaving his country. “Leaving my home, my roots, the only place I knew—I was terrified for myself and my family.”

As conflict escalated, he and his wife realized they had to get out for the sake of their children.

Their plan was to go to Egypt so he could continue working and his children could get into school. But two days into their journey, they were caught and arrested by the Egyptian Coast Guard for crossing the border illegally. The entire family, including his two children, was imprisoned for three-and-a-half months, and once they were released, they were told they had three months to stay in Egypt before they had to leave or face deportation.

They took their case to the UN and filed for refugee status. Their case was alarming enough to prioritize them for resettlement. Six months later they were told they would be heading to the US. They started the vetting process, which included security checks, visits with American officials, and physical exams.

Everything seemed to be falling into place until Shehadeh's wife found out she was pregnant during one of her physicals. The vetting process stalled; they were stuck in limbo until she gave birth. Once their son was born, they were back where they started. The entire process took more than two years.

Now, they are resettled in Maryland, where Shehadeh works at a computer company as warehouse stock person. “It’s not my line of work, or what I’m he used to doing,” he says. “But I’m willing to do anything to make ends meet.” 

Living the American Dream

Shehadeh is focused on ensuring his children have opportunities for a happier future. “I came here pretty late in life, so I don't expect much for me,” he says. “I want to guarantee that [my children] have a successful future here in the US.”

Compared to their experience in Egypt, where he says he learned to expect the worst of people, Shehadeh reports that life in America has been “nothing short of great.”

“There is no more that I can ask her than people smiling at me when I walk down the street,” he says. “When they smile at me at me, it makes everything worth it.”

Shehadeh's story underscores the precarious position many refugees face.Stand with refugees. Call 1-855-637-2383 and tell your senators you oppose President Trump's nomination of Ronald Mortensen to lead the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

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