(Editor’s Note: With the announcement from the White House this week that the United States has accepted 10,000 Syrian refugees this year ahead of schedule, this is the story of the first Syrian refugees resettled in Oregon. This story appeared in our most recent Annual Report.)
He’s one of the most patriotic people you will meet. Every day, he kisses the American flag that proudly hangs from his family’s apartment balcony.
The man’s name is Abdulkader Arab. He is the first Syrian refugee in Oregon and a Kurdish Sunni Muslim. He and his wife have three small children. LCS Northwest resettled the family to Portland in December, 2015. The family endured tough conditions in Turkey after fleeing the Syrian Civil War.
Arab works hard – usually five 10-hour shifts a week at a manufacturing plant in Beaverton. He wants to spend more time with his family, learn English, and get a driver’s license. His new friend and translator, Nabil Katcho, reminds him that learning takes time.
“He is ready to give up on everything that is his past,” the translator said for Arab. When you hear about his past, it’s easy to understand why.
Arab was a carpet retailer for 10 years in Aleppo, Syria, when the civil war broke out in March, 2011. Business dried up quickly, food and water became scarce, and living was suddenly dangerous. Many bad people were making and carrying out threats. Within one month’s time, Arab’s family was devastated. His brother was shot and killed going to work as an engineer. His father was murdered collecting his pension check.
Arab had to support his family, so he left his wife and two kids with other family members and made his way to Istanbul. He found employment with a tailoring business, where he ate, slept and worked. He wasn’t treated well, but he sent money home to his family.
Then Arab found out his wife was pregnant with their third child. With conditions getting worse in Syria, he hired smugglers to bring the family to Istanbul. Life in Istanbul was difficult. The only housing they could find was a small basement apartment that filled with water every time it rained. Many nights the kids went to bed hungry. Their extended family was split up into different countries – some migrated to Greece and others resettled in Germany. There was no school for the oldest son. After two years, they registered as Syrian refugees with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
They applied for a visa to the United States, and it came in December 2015. Being Kurdish, Arab thought the Turkish government wouldn’t let him go. But after dealing with bureaucracy for 15 days, the family was told they could leave.
They flew to Chicago, spent a night, and went on to Portland. Arab says he loves how Portland is clean and organized. He rarely stops smiling. His wife says that their children look and feel so different now. They no longer fear for their lives when they walk on the streets.
“I’m starting life here and I’m not looking back,” Arab said. The family needs to heal both emotionally and physically. Despite a rough life, they all smile and are thankful for a new start. “I want to teach my kids to love the flag so they love their country,” Arab said.