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These Syrian refugees feel at home in Seattle but worry for those left behind

Bassam Alhamdan, father of six, meets his kids at the bus stop every afternoon.
KUOW/Liz Jones
Bassam Alhamdan, father of six, meets his kids at the bus stop every afternoon.

A few months back, we introduced you to the Alhamdan family. They’re Syrian refugees. And among the first to arrive in Seattle since war broke out in their home country.

Every afternoon, Bassam Alhamdan’s watch beeps at 3:10 p.m. It’s time to pick up his kids from the bus stop around the corner from their apartment in West Seattle.

“I usually come here way ahead of time because I want to make sure I can receive my children and I have no fear of missing my kids,” Bassam says.

Bassam is a father of six. His three youngest charge off the bus. They laugh and hug him. Five-year-old Ahmad gets a piggy-back ride home. On the way, I ask about school. Ali says he’s made one new friend named Lincoln.

At home, the kids toss off backpacks and eat a snack.

This is the routine now since they moved here in November.

But in the last few years, they missed a lot of school. First in Syria, as the civil war intensified. Then at a crowded, chaotic refugee camp in Jordan, where they fled to in 2013.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Rabah Saleh, Bassam's wife, says the couple are taking English classes to help them find work.", "fid": "127168", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201606/P1070515_0.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]“The place is a desert and we lived in tents,” Bassam says. “The water is not clean, and it’s not a healthy place to live.”

Now, the family lives in a four-bedroom apartment.

A local Muslim group helps cover their rent for now. But they’ll both need to find work soon. They’re taking English classes to get ready. Rabah Saleh, Bassam’s wife says they’ve been in school for three months.

“The English language is key to life,” says Bassam.

Their oldest son, Mohannad, is camped out in his room, texting on his phone. Bassam was relieved to get him out of Syria.

“He was in the age of military, so they could take him any moment, any time. Of course for the sake of my children’s future, I had to sacrifice.”

They saw bombings, and food became scarce.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ahmad Alhamdan has finished up his kindergarten year. His family arrived in Seattle in November.", "fid": "127169", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201606/P1070551_0.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]]So they left the village where Bassam and Rabah grew up. Where they had a large home, with fruit trees. And where most of their relatives still live.

“I didn’t want to leave the country of my birth, and all of my memories,” Rabah says. “But for the sake of my children, and my husband, I had to leave.”

“It was the most difficult time of our lives,” Bassam adds. “To say goodbye to my parents. The last look at our house, and my parent’s house.”

Now their only communication with family in Syria is through text. They mostly talk about how to get them out.

“They try, but it could take them three to four months walking through desert. It’s very hot and they might get dehydrated, or in worst case, lose their lives,” Bassam says, getting emotional.

[asset-audio[{"description": "Liz Jones' feature about the Alhamdan family when they arrived in November.", "fid": "127171", "uri": "npraudio://201606/NEWS_20151112_LizRefugees.mp3"}]]Three years ago, Bassam’s family easily crossed the border to Jordan in about a half hour. But that border is now closed. Bassam doubts his family will ever return.

“There’s no home, there’s no future in Syria. Not for our children or us. It’s destroyed.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ayah and Ahmad play a game on the iPad after school.", "fid": "127190", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201606/P1070536.JPG", "attribution": "Credit Liz Jones/KUOW"}]]In the living room, two kids play a hair salon game on the iPad.

I first met this family at the airport seven months ago. They seemed overwhelmed, exhausted. But still smiling. They look far more at ease now. Bassam’s wearing track pants and a T-shirt that says "good times."

“We came to America, we came to a whole new life. Everything is beautiful,” Rabah says.  

I tease Bassam that his phone keeps buzzing as we talk. A new friend has invited them for dinner. But mostly, it’s a group text, with some news.

“I just found out there’s a new family that just arrived yesterday from Syria,” he says. They’re in Tukwila.

It’s another family, moved out of the war zone. Bassam hopes they’ll meet soon.

[asset-audio[{"description": "The Alhamdans talk about their last days in Syria.", "fid": "127186", "uri": "public://201606/NEWS_20160615_syria.mp3"}]]Refugee resettlement has become a hot-button issue in the presidential campaign. Since 2015, the U.S. has taken in about 5,400 Syrian refugees. About a hundred have resettled in Washington state so far.

Millions more are displaced, or wait in refugee camps. UN officials have called it “the humanitarian crisis of our time.”

Join a special event this Saturday evening to mark World Refugee Day. Several refugees will share their stories on stage with KUOW’s Liz Jones at Seattle’s Town Hall

Year started with KUOW: 2006