Faraj Ghazi al-Jamous, a Syrian refugee, drags his family's luggage out of a hotel they had stayed in after they were prevented from travel to the United States
Faraj Ghazi al-Jamous, a Syrian refugee, drags his family's luggage out of a hotel they had stayed in after they were prevented from travel to the United States © Khalil MAZRAAWI - AFP
Faraj Ghazi al-Jamous, a Syrian refugee, drags his family's luggage out of a hotel they had stayed in after they were prevented from travel to the United States
Ivan Couronne in Alexandria and Kamal Taha in Amman, AFP
Last updated: January 1, 1970

Their new life in US was ready - then Trump signed his decree

One of the boys in the seven-member Syrian family due to arrive in suburban Washington this week would have slept under a duvet dyed in the red, white and blue of the US flag, a centerpiece for the room in which he was to start his new life.

The apartment was furnished, the kitchen stocked with crockery. But the future tenants, a family of refugees, are now stranded in Amman, Jordan -- thousands of miles from the US capital where, with a flourish of his pen, President Donald Trump changed their fate.

"Your trip has been postponed until further notice," an International Organization for Migration employee informed them last Saturday. The call came a few hours after the US president signed an executive order barring all refugees for 120 days, and Syrians indefinitely.

Faraj Ghazi al-Jamous, a 45-year-old bricklayer, fled four years ago to Jordan with his wife Camila and their five children, whose ages now range from five to 20.

First they found shelter in a refugee camp, later in a small home in the Amman suburbs. There they were screened as they made their way through the bureaucratic webs of the United Nations and the US government, before finally securing the rare status of refugees.

The United States accepted relatively few Syrians under Barack Obama -- just 12,500 in 2016. His successor has slammed the door shut.

"We were so excited to leave," this father told AFP, sitting in a Amman hotel room the IOM had set them up in for a few days. "We dream of a new life, far from our country destroyed by the war."

"Everything was ready in Virginia to welcome us. We have photos of our future home."

They were originally slated to fly to Washington on January 20 -- the day Trump was inaugurated -- but their Turkish Airlines flight was canceled due to fog.

Their flight reservations were rescheduled for February 1. In the meantime, Trump signed his decree.

- 'Crushing' -

Dozens of volunteers from the St John's Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Virginia had been preparing to welcome the al-Jamous family to their new home, setting up sofas, tables and a television.

The US federal government gives about $1,100 to refugee families when they arrive; some public benefits at the federal and state level are also available. But aid organizations are vital to these families, helping them to navigate the complexities of tasks like finding housing and registering for social security.

Last June the local congregation voted to take this family under their wing. Once the al-Jamous' file was approved, the church accrued donations to sign a one-year, $1,900-monthly lease for a ground-floor apartment in a quiet residential complex comprising several three-story beige buildings.

For months church members collected donated goods in perfect condition, which now gather dust as they sit unused.

"It was crushing to find out that this family, that was sitting at the airport waiting to get on a plane... got the rug pulled out from under them," said Diane Brody, a lead volunteer at the Alexandria church.

"We've been in touch of them. We're emotionally attached to them," she said.

"We're praying very hard and doing what we can do to influence people to maybe get them an exception or something."

Faraj's brother, Qusai al-Jamous, has been in the US with a work visa for four years and now has a green card, and lives just a few kilometers away.

"Everything is ready here. They are approved. They went through the whole process," the 43-year-old business reporter said.

"You try to step on a solid floor, and you find yourself stepping on a cloud."

Some 100 State Department-approved refugees were assigned to the local branch of Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area for resettlement in the Washington region by the end of February, according to the non-profit's spokeswoman, Autumn Orme.

Just 45, most of them Afghan, managed to obtain permission to come between Monday and Thursday. After that, the program is suspended, and the organization does not yet know whether exceptions will be possible.

In Amman, the al-Jamous left their hotel Wednesday and piled into two small taxis destined for a small house in the suburbs.

Mother Camila, one of the many faces of the immigration ban, prays the US leader will change his mind. "I implore President Trump to help us," she said. "We are refugees, we are vulnerable."

Whether they will ever gain permission to enter the US hangs in the balance: Trump's executive order proclaims that the Syrian refugee program will only reboot when the US administration deems it in "the national interest."

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