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One Year Later: A Syrian Family’s Life in Indy

A year ago, Syrian refugees Shereen and Fathi carried fear in their hearts and their nine-year old son Jowan in their arms. Today, the family is safe in their Indianapolis home, Jowan has access to medical care, including a wheelchair, and the only thing they carry is freedom. “The independence and safety I’ve seen here, we’ve never seen back home. By living in Indianapolis, we have seen the best.”

Shereen and Fathi’s life of freedom and safety in Indianapolis almost didn’t happen due to the Muslim Ban.

In 2010, Shereen, Fathi, and their son Jowan who has cerebral palsy fled the war in Syria. After living as refugees in Turkey for several years, they were invited by the UNHCR to resettle in the U.S. Without hesitation, Shereen and Fathi said, “YES!” After the required interviews, background checks, medical examinations, and cultural orientation, the family received the news that they would travel to Indianapolis on February 6,, 2017 to be resettled by Exodus.

On January 27, 2017 President Trump signed the first Executive Order, banning refugees and immigrants from six Muslim majority countries, including Syria. The family received a phone call that their flight to the U.S. was cancelled. The America they had dreamed of had banned them from coming.

Shereen said, “I cried when they told me that our flight was cancelled. I cried not for myself – but for my son. I felt like his future had been lost, and as a mother I couldn’t do anything about it.”

Thanks to protests by the American people and the efforts of the judicial system, The Executive Order was temporarily blocked a few days later. Shereen and Fathi received a second phone call telling them to pack their bags—they would be leaving tomorrow.

For their first few months in Indianapolis, Shereen and Fathi feared they might be sent back to Syria at any moment. “We were shocked that we had made it to the United States. We were assured we were safe, but for the longest time we just kept having this feeling that we would be sent back – that any minute we would be asked to leave.”

A year later, the family is thriving in their new life. They have accomplished many of the little things that we take for granted every day. Fathi has been working at FedEx for seven months, he has his driver’s license, and he saved up and recently bought a car. Jowan is in fourth grade and his favorite subject is math. Shereen loves meeting with Jowan’s teachers at school and hearing about how well he is doing. He also has access to the medical treatment and care he desperately needed.

“All my dreams are coming true – for myself and my family. I never knew in one year we could accomplish so much,” Shereen said. “Before we came to Indianapolis, my son would look out at the window and cry every day. He would always ask me when he would go to school. The U.S. was our only answer.” Shereen has big goals for herself in 2018, too. She plans to continue to learn English and get her driver’s license.

Shereen and her family no longer fear for themselves. But they do fear for others. “The ban now means something different for us because it no longer impacts us, but it still impacts other families. I wasn’t the only one dreaming of peace and safety – other refugees are too.”

To learn more about the Executive Orders and current legal status of the Muslim Ban, click here for a timeline.