KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The patriarch of the first Syrian family to be moved to the U.S. under a "surge" program designed to quickly resettle refugees said Monday he was surprised and grateful that his family was approved for resettlement so soon.
Ahmad al-Abboud told reporters through an interpreter that he, his wife and five children were given 20 days to pack up their belongings and prepare to move from the windowless room they shared in Jordan to their new home in Kansas City, Missouri.
"He was so surprised because he was not expecting it when it happened. He was shocked when it happened," the interpreter, Fariz Turkmani, said.
Turkmani, who emigrated from Syria to Kansas City years ago, said the 45-year-old father from Homs, Syria, had feared his family's move to the U.S. would be delayed by "constant struggles, appointments after appointments" or that they would never make it at all.
The resettlement process usually takes 18 to 24 months, but the surge program aims to reduce that to three months, said Gina Kassem, the regional refugee coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan.
The family, who also lived for a while in a refugee camp in Jordan, fled Syria's civil war three years ago. They arrived in Kansas City last week.
The al-Abboud family's resettlement is being handled by Della Lamb Community Services, which found them a home, and provided furniture and groceries.
Al-Abboud, a former construction worker who still has shrapnel in his body from an explosion in Syria, said he hopes to find work soon and that his children, aged 1 to 12 years, learn English quickly. The children will likely enroll at Della Lamb's charter school, which has interpreters for its large non-English-speaking population.
Since October, 1,000 Syrian refugees have moved to the U.S. from Jordan. President Barack Obama has set a target of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees by Sept. 30. About 600 people are interviewed every day at a resettlement center in Amman, to help meet that goal.
Judy Akers, executive vice president of Della Lamb, said the family should be self-sufficient within three months. Meanwhile, there has been an outpouring of support from the Kansas City community in terms of offering money, furniture and employment.
Al-Abboud said he wants to build a "life of dignity" for his family and reassure Americans that Syrian refugees should not be feared.
Turkmani said al-Abboud wants to "be a model of trust and kindness and happiness," and that he will do "his best to ensure that he fits in."