By Brenda Flanagan
Today, the three Al Nablse children chase each other around their apartment in Elizabeth like any other kids. But six years ago they lived in Syria, where dad Hasan owned a successful car dealership until artillery started pounding neighborhoods. The Al Nablse kids got buffeted by shock waves from bomb concussions, Hasan explained through a translator.
“Because of the explosion and the bombs going off, explosions, his kids, their ears start to bleed,” he said.
Terrified, the family fled to Jordan and spent three agonizing years as war refugees before finally getting U.S. visas. Hasan will never forget their flight to America in 2014 and the feeling of relief.
“It’s like I was floating by myself because I was so happy to travel to come here.” Hasan said.
“They’re the lucky ones because there are many families that are not so lucky. Even when they’ve survived coming here, the trauma lasts for a long, long time,” Rawaa Nancy Albilal said.
Albilal’s with the Arab American Family Support Center. She notes that, despite rising requests for asylum, fewer families are gaining approval. 7,371 refugees entered the U.S. in the month of December. That dropped to 3,989 in May. Locally, 601 refugees resettled in New Jersey last year. Only 202 have made it to Jersey so far this year.
Why the lag?
“There has been a stall in DHS [Department of Homeland Security] sending employees overseas to the refugee camps to conduct interviews of refugees, which is one of the requirements in the refugee vetting process,” said Staff Attorney of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Yolanda Rondon. “There has also been a great emphasis policy wise on creating safe zones in the region of the North Africa and the Middle East. This is driven partly by the anti-refugee rhetoric of terrorists infiltrating the refuge process.”
“There are multiple reasons why the process will slow down. The vetting process is very, very extensive, so it’s taking much, much longer for many of our agencies at the federal level to communicate with one another,” Albilal said. “Some of the governors are saying we don’t want refugees to be settled.”
Back in April of last year, Gov. Chris Christie said state government would no longer help refugee families settle here in New Jersey. He also said that refugee families from Syria weren’t welcome here.
Without New Jersey state assistance, nonprofits pick up the slack. The support center’s helping 38 families in New Jersey right now. It loaned the Al Nablse family $6,100 to pay for the plane tickets from Jordan.
“We enroll them in health insurance, we provide them with counseling, tutoring for their children, as well legal services to help them petition their relatives to join them,” Albilal said.
The Al Nablse have family back in Syria and Jordan who are still waiting for visas. Meanwhile, their kids love going out to play in parks and at the beach. They’re doing well in school and picked up English almost effortlessly.
Their parents take English lessons. Mom Kholod, who’s very camera shy, served us coffee today. She’s working hard to launch a catering business. She’s busy preparing a feast for the end of Ramadan. Hasan keeps submitting job applications.
“I am willing to work any kind of job, right now,” he said.
And he is endlessly grateful.
“And I really, really thank the American people and I wish that I can give back something, even tiny, small, back in return,” Hasan said.
He says families like his just want to live in peace.