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Syrian Refugees Celebrate One-Year Anniversary In Kansas City

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Mustafa Daghmoush, left, and Ahmad al-Abboud with his son Mohammed, right, are Syrian refugees who have resettled in Kansas City, Missouri in the last year. Al-Abboud and his wife are now expecting their sixth child.

Sunday afternoon, refugees, volunteers and community members gathered at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Ahmad al-Abboud and his family's arrival in Kansas City. They were the first Syrian family to be resettled in the United States as part of the 2016 refugee "surge" under the Obama administration.

Al-Abboud and his wife have five children and another on the way. One year in, he says learning how to speak English and drive have been among his greatest struggles, but he loves Kansas City.

"From the moment I arrived, people have been supportive," he says through an Arabic interpreter. "The time that has passed since then, and this event, prove that to me."

Since his arrival last April, around 30 Syrian families have come to the Kansas City area. Mustafa Daghmoush and his family came in September last year. 

"When they first told me 'Kansas City, Missouri,' I immediately relaxed," Daghmoush says.

Just the sound of the name made him feel at ease. He doesn't know why exactly, but perhaps it's because of what he says he left behind when he embarked on his seven-month process of becoming a refugee: "Sadness in people's eyes."

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Noor, front, is Ahmad al-Abboud's 12-year-old daughter. She and her family were the first Syrian refugees to resettle in the United States under the Obama administration's 2016 'surge operation.'

There was no sadness to be found Sunday afternoon. Young children were roaming around while parents and volunteers co-mingled over an afternoon meal. There were tables filled with clothes, shoes, books and toys -- donations gathered by the UMKC student-led group Refugee Relief Association for the families.

The celebration comes at a contentious time for the U.S. and Syria. Last week, more than 80 civilians were killed in an apparent chemical weapon attack. In response, the Trump administration launched a missile attack on the Syrian air base where U.S. officials believe the chemical weapons attack was initiated.

The events didn't come up at Sunday's event, but they were on the minds of the families and those who have worked hard to bring them here.

"My heart is hurting," says Della Lamb's director of refugee resettlement Abdul Bakar. "But what touches me are the things we don't see through the TV that are still happening every day. May God make me the raft to save their lives."

Bakar is not sure how these events will impact the process of bringing more Syrian refugees to Kansas City.

"It's unpredictable," he says.

A more clear hitch in the process of bringing refugees from Syria is President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, banning refugees and immigrants from seven majority Muslim countries, including Syria, from entering the United States.

Local Syrian immigrant and volunteer Fariz Turkmani -- who has played a big part in the resettlement process for these families over the past year -- says Della Lamb told him a few months ago that three new Syrian refugee families were set to come to Kansas City.

"Then the whole thing stopped," Turkmani says. "Unless the President will have a change of heart like he did when he saw those images, and he attacked the [air base] in Syria. I'm hoping he'll have the same change of heart, and start allowing the Syrian refugees to come over here."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @adtudhope. You can reach her by email at andreat@kcur.org

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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