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A Syrian Refugee Family’s First Hours In Seattle

American Airlines flight number 1239 touched down at Sea-Tac Airport, and a family of Syrian refugees walked down the jet way and into a new life.

They’re one of the first families to arrive in the Seattle area since the U.S. agreed to take in more Syrian refugees. The civil war in Syria has displaced more than 4 million people.

Six people waited for them at the airport, holding bundles of pink roses and welcome signs in Arabic.

“This one says, ‘Thanks God for your safety,’” said Youkhana Yousif, who works with the refugee resettlement agency, World Relief Seattle.

Next to him, Cari Conklin waited with a sparkly gift bag full of candies, crayons and a candle. Conklin is part of a church group that has volunteered to help the family get settled.

The Alhamdan family emerged from the arrival area. The father wore a tan, three-piece suit that fell a bit long over his hands and shoes.

His wife followed close behind with their six children. The oldest is 20 and shy; the youngest five and full of spunk.

They didn't speak English, so Yousif translated.

He introduced the welcome party. Everyone smiled and nodded.

Then the father, Bessam Alhamdan, said what was already clear from their faces – that the family was exhausted.

“He’s so tired from travel Jordan, Cairo, New York," Yousif interpreted for Alhamdan. "Two days traveling. All they want is some food and bed for rest.”

As they walked to the baggage carousel, World Relief staffer Scott Ellis described the days ahead for this family.

“They’re actually going to a host home with a local family and will stay with them and just rest and recharge while we go over plan for first couple months that they’re here,” Ellis said. “Eventually they’ll meet with an employment specialist to talk about what work looks like. Then the kids will get into schools and doctor appointments if those are necessary, things like that.”

In a couple of weeks, the agency will move the family into their own apartment in Federal Way.

Only about 25 other Syrian refugees have been resettled in Washington state since the war broke out. But the numbers are expected to gradually nudge upwards.

In September, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. aims to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees next year – although many relief agencies called for many more.

The mother, Rabah Ahmad Saleh, sat with her children on a bench in the baggage claim area to wait for the family's luggage. But the youngest boy, Ahmad, 5, could hardly sit still and kept darting toward the sidewalk outside, his eyes wide with curiosity and excitement.

Soon, another church member arrived with a small dog and captured the kids' attention.

Ten large bags came off the carousel. It was all the family carried as they fled Syria to a refugee camp in Jordan.

Yousif interpreted for the father: “He was in the camp in Jordan for seven months. Then he decided to move out to find a better place.”

He said the camp lacked clean water, and that he ended up with kidney problems.

“You know like, refugee camps, it’s not the very perfect environment," Yousif said.

The family walked toward the parking garage, and this time, one of the case workers took young, energetic Ahmad by the hand.

Bessam Alhamdan stopped and gestured around. He asked where he could smoke.

They told him it would be a half-hour car ride. Could he wait?

Bessam nodded. His family left Syria nearly three years ago. They’ve learned to be patient, waiting for so many things.

And especially for today.

Refugee resettlement agencies in King County:

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