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Turlock IRC office helps family separated by travel ban
refugee pic 3
A local Imam and his son greet Nael Abdulqader, a Syrian refugee, and his younger brother. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Just three weeks ago, Nael Abdulqader was unsure if he would ever see his family again. He was permitted into the United States as a refugee on Jan. 18, and was forced to leave his parents and nine siblings across the Atlantic Ocean as he pursued a new life. Despite his fears, Nael’s time apart from his family was not in vain as they were brought together once more in a heartwarming reunion Monday night.

“It’s like somebody losing their soul and having it come back,” said Nael, with the help of an interpreter. “Imagine losing your life, and having it back now.”

Nael and his family escaped war-torn Syria in 2012, and had been living in Turkey since then as part of over 2.5 million Syrian refugees who call the camps there home. Nearly 11 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of a civil war in 2011, and as families struggle to survive in harsh conditions, the International Rescue Committee has helped to resettle them into new, safe homes here in the United States.

According to Nael, he and his family began applying for refuge in America in March 2016.

“We wanted to come here, start a new life and have a better future,” he said.

When Nael was allowed to come to America before the rest of his family, the decision to leave them behind was a difficult one.

“It made me feel like I was going to get separated from my parents for a long time, so I was really emotional and sad,” said Nael.

Nael’s worries were only amplified when just a week after arriving in the United States, President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending all refugee admission.

Prior to the executive order, Nael’s family was prepared to begin their journey to the United States shortly after Nael began his own. They had sold all of their belongings and stopped working, but after the order their case was stopped and there was uncertainty surrounding if and when it would be rebooked. Thanks to a three-judge federal appeal panel’s recent decision refusing to reinstate the travel ban after blocks from judges around the country, Nael’s family was once again able to plan their trip to America.

“Their life was in limbo in Turkey,” said Christine Lemonda, deputy director of the IRC’s Northern California offices. “The news that they were allowed to come in was extra comforting.”

Nearly a year after the family began the process of trying to come to America, volunteers and staff workers from the Turlock IRC office, members of the Turlock Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and their son and brother Nael were waiting for them with open arms on Monday night as their journey came to an end. For Nael’s mother Amina Mohamad Omar, the signs reading “Welcome friends” and “Welcome to America” that the volunteers were holding were a comforting sight.

“This is the first time I’ve been away from my son for so long,” she said. “I’m very happy.”

Apart from being able to start a new life in America, the completion of their journey had even more significance since another of Amina’s sons, Wael Abdulqader, is suffering from kidney failure. America is the only refugee-friendly country that agreed to help him.

“It’s the best feeling, knowing my brother has gotten here and can get fixed,” said Nael.

Cheri Severson of Hughson serves as the public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and was there to welcome the family upon their arrival.

“I think all of us kind of feel like refugees when we move to a new place,” she said. “It’s always nice to have people there to help welcome you and show you the ropes.”

Moving forward, the Turlock IRC office will continue to help Nael and his family get settled into their new home. IRC staff and community members like Severson will introduce them to the area, helping them learn where to shop and connect their young children with the local school district so that they may begin attending class.

Finishing his schooling is one of Nael’s top priorities as well, and he is currently in the final stages of being hired at Foster Farms in Turlock just three weeks after his own arrival. Now that his family has joined him, the 12 of them can work on making their new surroundings feel like home.

“It’s a beautiful place,” said Nael. “The people are nice. Everything is perfect.”