Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.

After a year in America, Syrian family weighs a return home

Jaidaa Bazara, left, with her younger siblings Alaa and Mohamed Bazara.
Courtesy of International Rescue Committee/Nick Hall
Jaidaa Bazara, left, with her younger siblings Alaa and Mohamed Bazara.

In the wake of the Trump Administration’s travel ban, the resettlement of Syrian refugees to the U.S. slowed considerably. In Washington state, the number dwindled to just 29 people in 2017, compared to nearly 200 the year before.

As the ban came down last January, we brought you the story of a Syrian refugee whose flight here was cancelled. She was stuck overseas, seven months pregnant, and trying to reunite with family already in Seattle.

Read the original story: Syrian refugee, 7 months pregnant. Flight to join Seattle family, cancelled

So now, a birth announcement: Baby Ayla Mohamad was born safely in Seattle on May 11, to proud parents Jaidaa Bazara and her husband, Abdulmalik Mohamad.

Her grandparents are pretty proud, too.

Ahmed Bazara made a beeline to his granddaughter as he arrived home from work one day.

“Ayla!” he cooed, lifting her in the air. Bazara’s wife, Emtisal Bazara, joined in, too.

“I love you, Nana. I love you!” Emtisal Bazara said in a singsong voice, as her daughter Jaidaa Bazara looked on.

The Bazaras arrived in Washington as refugees in December 2016, just weeks before President Trump took office. The parents traveled here first with their two younger children.

An older son, Walid, 22, was set to join them a few weeks later, along with Jaidaa Bazara and her husband. The timing was ill-fated: Trump’s executive order on January 27, 2017 indefinitely banned Syrian refugees from entering the U.S.

The Bazara family was devastated and uncertain if a reunion in America was now impossible.

Protests and lawsuits followed, and when the ban was temporarily lifted, the rest of the Bazara family traveled to the U.S. in February.

But the travel ban, now in its third iteration, has severely curtailed Syrian resettlement across the country. The number of Syrian refugees brought to the U.S. dropped from 15,479 people in 2016 to just 3,024 people in 2017, a decline of more than 80 percent.  

Trump Administration officials have said the travel restrictions are needed to prevent terrorism and keep the country safe.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Ahmed Bazara with his granddaughter, Ayla Mohamad, at the family's apartment in Tuwkila, Washington.", "fid": "141742", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201801/P1090795.JPG", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Liz Jones"}]][asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "First year in America", "style": "wide"}]]The Bazaras fled the civil war in Syria in 2012. They spent a few years in Jordan, then Turkey.

Now, they’re settling into American life in the suburbs of Seattle and learning the customs here, sometimes the hard way.

“My dad got a ticket in the car last week because Aala doesn’t have a seatbelt,” Walid said in near perfect English — impressive, since he only spoke a few words when he first arrived less than a year ago.  

“Also passing a school bus…,” Walid Bazara read from the citation. The penalty is $555.

His dad, Ahmed Bazara, was driving and piped up to explain.

“He doesn’t mind the ticket because it’s a learning experience,” the interpreter said, translating from Arabic. “Of course, all the rules are different and new.”

Walid Bazara planned to meet with an attorney to help get the fee reduced and keep the ticket off his dad’s driving record.

It’s common for new refugees in the U.S. to feel isolated. But fortunately for the Bazaras, they were resettled at an apartment complex in Tukwila where many Syrian families live.

“I have my friend. Her name is Aala, too,” said Aala Bazara, 12. “Sometimes we go outside and play together.”

The Bazaras have watched friends get married here, or pass away. Yet, these big life moments feel incomplete so far from their homeland.

As we talk in the living room, someone’s phone alarm goes off with a call to afternoon prayer. The Bazaras exchanged some quick words in Arabic and decided to let it slide a bit. Soon, Emtisal Bazara set out a tray of coffee and sweets.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Mohamed Bazara, 19, dreams of studying medicine so he can become a nurse. He's currently finishing high school.", "fid": "141964", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201801/1_credit_nick_hall__irc.jpg", "attribution": "Credit COURTESY OF INTERNATIONAL RESCUE COMMITTEE/NICK HALL"}]][asset-pullquotes[{"quote": "From disaster, something good", "style": "wide"}]]The travel ban delivered a major blow to this family, but it also brought an unexpected silver lining. During the travel ban chaos, people saw the Bazara’s story in the news and many extended a hand.

Strangers greeted them on the street and in buses. The publicity also helped the dad, Ahmed, get a job right away.

“The company saw him also on YouTube and that’s how they hired him,” the interpreter said.

Ahmed Bazara works for an electronics manufacturer, inspecting parts. He said his goal for 2018 is to learn more English so he can get a promotion. He and Emtisal Bazara just enrolled in night classes at a local community college.

Outside the apartment, Walid Bazara showed me the car he uses as a Lyft driver. It’s just a side gig while he focuses on college, although he’s found it’s also a great way to learn English and get to know his way around.

“Yeah, I want to stay here,” he said. “I like here.”

He said he misses Syria but he’s excited about what’s ahead for him in America.

“I feel relaxed here,” he said.  “I feel good. I can study. I can work. I can do everything. I feel free here.”

But not everyone in his family feels the same. Back in the living room, Emtisal Bazara mentions she misses the independence she had in Syria: She ran her own hair salon. She drove a car.

“I could walk home from my parents house at midnight — no problem,” she told the interpreter.

Ahmed Bazara and his two daughters, Jaidaa and Aala Bazara, nodded along. They’re all homesick. They’ll make the most of this time in America, but Syria is home.

“Syria. Love Syria. Need to go,” Jaidaa Bazara said in broken English.

Asked if they would really go back, they responded without hesitation: “Right away!”

Friends in Syria tell them this brutal war is winding down after years of bloodshed and destruction.

When it’s safe to go back, Ahmed Bazara said he wants to help rebuild his country and bring the good things he’s learned in America with him.

“In Arabic we say there’s always something good that comes from disasters,” he told the interpreter. “It was really a big price to pay. But there is something good that came out from their experience.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "The Bazara family at their apartment in Tukwila, Washington", "fid": "141744", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201801/3_credit_nick_hall__irc.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Courtesy of International Rescue Committee/Nick Hall"}]]

Year started with KUOW: 2006