Conflict and policy decisions kept Mariam and her four children separated from Yousef, Mariam’s husband and the children’s father, for years. Now, with the help of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), the family is reunited in Tucson.
Mariam, Yousef, and their children are from Syria. They fled from the war in Syria to Lebanon as refugees, but went back to Syria because of difficult living conditions in Lebanon. However, things got even worse in Syria, as the children were traumatized by a military attack on their school.
The family fled to Egypt. Yousef chose not to go immediately, instead choosing to first help another family member in Syria before rejoining the family in Egypt. However, Egypt refused to allow him entry, and he was separated from his family.
Meanwhile, in Egypt, Mariam and her family went through the U.S. refugee resettlement process. After some false starts, Mariam and the children were eventually selected for resettlement in the United States. They arrived in Tucson in 2016. “They thought that in a few months or a year, [Yousef] would come,” said Meheria Habibi, Resettlement Supervisor for the IRC in Tucson. Under federal law, refugees can sponsor close relatives to come to the United States.
However, those hopes were dashed by the Travel Ban in January 2017. The cruel and counterproductive Travel Ban stranded and separated many refugee families, including Mariam and Yousef’s.
“They thought that when the Travel Ban happened that they were never going to be reunited with their father,” Meheria said.
For Mariam and Yousef, the bottom line was that Yousef could not join his family in the United States. Mariam cannot explain the delay. She does not understand the politics. “I was so scared,” she added.
The IRC did everything it could to move forward Mariam and Yousef’s case. But, delays in Yousef’s case kept the family separated for years. For IRC staff on the ground, the cause of delays was not always clear as federal policy continued to change, with bureaucratic red tape stalling the case.
After years of delays, the IRC office received notification that Yousef was to be resettled. Yousef finally arrived in Tucson in March 2019.
He had been living in Kuwait for the past year. He shared the concerns that Mariam had about the separation being permanent. “I was doing very badly by myself,” he said through an interpreter. “But I always had hope.”
Now, his hope is for a job. His dream job would be as a truck driver, which is what he did in Syria. But for now, “I’m going to start working any kind of job.” Beyond that, Yousef wants to learn English and eventually become a U.S. citizen.
After years of difficulty, the family is together and rebuilding their life in Tucson. Yousef hopes for a good future for their children. “I want my kids to have a high education and become doctors.”