First Syrians leave for US under surge resettlement program

A large group of Syrian Refugees
FILE - In this Jan. 14, 2016 file photo, Syrian refugees inside the border wait to be approved to get into Jordan, in the Hadalat reception area, near the northeastern Jordanian border with Syria, and Iraq, near the town of Ruwaished, Jordan. The Senate will consider new rigorous screening procedures for Syrian and Iraqi refugees seeking to enter the United States as national security looms large for voters in an election year. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh, File)

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — The first Syrian family to be resettled to the U.S. under its speeded-up “surge operation” departed to the United States Wednesday from the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Ahmad al-Abboud, who is being resettled with his wife and five children, said that although he is thankful to Jordan — where he has lived for three years after fleeing Syria’s civil war — he is hopeful of finding a better life in the U.S.

“I’m happy. America is the country of freedom and democracy, there are jobs opportunities, there is good education, and we are looking forward to having a good life over there,” al-Abboud said.

The family, who are from the Syrian city of Homs, had been living in Mafraq, a town north of Amman. He was unable to find work in Jordan, and the family was surviving on food coupons.

Ahmad, who is 45 years old, said he had ambitious to find a job to support his family and to learn English.

“I am ready to integrate in the U.S. and start a new life,” he said, speaking to The Associated Press in Amman’s airport, where the family was due to board a flight to Kansas City, Missouri.

Since October last year, 1,000 Syrian refugees have moved from Jordan to the U.S. The resettlement surge hopes to increase that number ten-fold.

A resettlement surge center opened in Amman in February to meet President Barack Obama’s target of resettling 10,000 Syrians to the United States by Sep. 30. Every day, the center interviews some 600 Syrian refugees.

The temporary processing center for the surge operation will run until April 28, U.S. Ambassador to Jordan Alice Wells said. She travelled to the airport to greet the family before their departure.

The regional refugee coordinator at the U.S. embassy in Amman, Gina Kassem, said that while the 10,000 target applies to Syrian refugees living around the world, the majority will be resettled from Jordan.

“The 10,000 is a floor and not a ceiling, and it is possible to increase the number,” she told reporters.

While the resettlement process usually takes 18 to 24 months, under the surge operation this will be reduced to three months, Kassem said.

The U.N. Refugee Agency prioritizes the most vulnerable cases for resettlement, and then refers them to the U.S. to review, Kassem said. She said that priority is given to high-risk groups such as victims of torture and gender based violence and unaccompanied minors. “We do not have exclusions or look for families with certain education background, language skills or other socio-economic factors, and we do not cut family sizes,” she said.

Jordan hosts around 635,000 of the more than 4.7 million Syrians registered with the U.N. refugee agency after fleeing Syria’s civil war. The total number of Syrians in Jordan is more than 1.2 million, including those who arrived before the conflict.

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