Local Syrian refugees welcome relatives new to Eugene
EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — When Ali Turki Ali’s flight landed in Eugene three years ago, the Syrian math teacher knew no one in the city that he would come to call home.
But Ali stood in the terminal at the Eugene Airport last month for a different reason: escorting his mother, Amina, and stepmother, Faiza, as they arrived in Oregon for the first time.
Ali hadn’t seen either since 2015. That summer he left the Turkish town his family had fled to from Syria amid their home country’s civil war. Ali was the only one in his large family who had been granted refugee status by the U.S. State Department at the time.
His brother, Mahmoud, and Mahmoud’s two sons joined him in Eugene in late 2016. But for Ali, the recent reunion was perhaps the happiest of all.
“It means having a family again. Living with them, being able to see them when you want,” Ali, 37, said. “I’m so happy I can help take care of them. It means a lot, not just having family but helping them.”
When Ali arrived in Eugene, he was one of just 2,300 Syrians admitted to the United States as refugees since the conflict began in 2011. Sponsored by a Eugene resident whose father is a longtime State Department employee, Ali has settled into the city, working for the past two years as an actuarial assistant for Summit Benefit & Actuarial Services.
But the absence of his mother and stepmother left a void, Ali said, as the two women continued to live in Turkey, near its border with Syria.
“Having your mom in your life is so important to me,” Ali said. “In Syria, I came home from work and would have my family home, and everyone would have dinner and enjoy life.”
But a date for the reunion was in limbo until recently.
The number of Syrian refugees admitted to the United States has slowed to a trickle: After admitting more than 2,800 refugees in the first half of 2017, the number dropped to 193 in the second half and just 11 in the first three months of this year, according to the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.
Like many others, Amina and Faiza were screened and approved for arrival in the United States about two years ago, said Tom Mulhern, executive director of Catholic Community Services of Lane County, which works with the Catholic Charities’ Refugee Program to resettle refugees locally. But their status appeared to be in limbo amid the restrictions on entry.
So it was all the more surprising when Mulhern got a call from the refugee program around March, saying Amina and Faiza had been formally assigned to his group for settlement.
Mulhern never received an explanation for why they were suddenly allowed in after two years of waiting, but health problems they’ve experienced and Ali and Mahmoud’s presence in Eugene likely factored in, he said.
However it occurred, the decision brought Ali to the international terminal of Los Angeles International Airport on May 29, waiting for the mother and stepmother he hadn’t seen in years.
Hours passed as he waited for a phone call from the nurse or U.N. Refugee Agency official escorting Amina and Faiza, to say they had cleared security and customs.
“Finally the U.N. person called me and said, ‘Where are you?’ ”
A few minutes later, the family was reunited.
“It was an amazing moment. A moment before I was very worried, stressed, wondering what was going on,” he said. “I saw then, OK, everything is done. It’s for sure.”
They arrived in Eugene late Tuesday night, welcomed at the airport by several dozen supporters, and Mahmoud and his two sons. One of them embraced Amina, who arrived in a wheelchair, and she picked him up and placed him on her lap.
Their first dinner together in three years was late that night, in Mahmoud’s kitchen. Then, Amina and Faiza went to bed. The family declined to release the surnames of the women, citing privacy concerns.
The two women will recover from their trip and receive some medical attention, Ali said. He’s looking forward to introducing them to Eugene.
“Right now, they need to take their rest for a few weeks, get caught up on sleep and get better,” he said. “Then I’ll show them around to learn the town and the culture.”
Though Ali still has family overseas, his mother and stepmother’s arrival marked a happy end to a journey that seemed in doubt just a few months ago.
“This makes me feel like I’m home,” he said.
Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com