Wednesday, Sep 19, 2018
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WARM WELCOME AT TOLEDO EXPRESS AIRPORT

Syrian refugees arrive in Toledo

Family among 1st to land since ban put on hold; 2 sons still overseas

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    Kathy Savage of Toledo, center, hugs refugee Ghada, who declined to give her last name, shortly after Ghada, her husband Khaled, right, and their eldest son, Fadi, not pictured, arrived at Toledo Express Airport.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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    Ghada, left, describes her hope to be reunited with her youngest sons now that she, her husband Khaled, center, and their eldest son Fadi have safely arrived in Toledo.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
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After three days of travel and two weeks of conflicting rulings on the future of the United States’ refugee program, a Syrian family originally scheduled to arrive in Toledo a week ago landed Friday evening at Toledo Express Airport and was greeted by well-wishers bearing gifts and messages of welcome.

Parents Khaled and Ghada and their 23-year-old son, Fadi, fled Syria in 2014 and had been refugees in Turkey. The family, who asked to be identified by first names only, arrived after flights to New York, Chicago, and finally Toledo. They are among the first to arrive in the city after court orders temporarily lifted a travel ban for refugees and visa-holders from seven majority-Muslim countries that was enacted through President Trump’s executive order last month.

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Kathy Savage of Toledo, center, hugs refugee Ghada, who declined to give her last name, shortly after Ghada, her husband Khaled, right, and their eldest son, Fadi, not pictured, arrived at Toledo Express Airport.

THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

A group called US Together Toledo has settled more than 200 refugees in Toledo since May, 2014. Resettlement coordinator Corine Dehabey met the family Friday at Toledo Express, as did a small band of greeters.

With Ms. Dehabey translating, the family thanked those who came and said they were happy to finally be in the United States. They were happy to be here and protected, Ghada said, although she cried when talking about her two younger sons, ages 22 and 11, who are in Germany.

They haven’t seen each other in a year and a half, she said, but she hopes to bring them to Toledo soon despite concerns about the future of the travel ban.

They lost everything in the war, even their home. Ghada said she hopes their life in Toledo is peaceful and free from war.

Volunteers and community members presented the family with Lebanese sweets, an American flag balloon, and flowers.

“I think it’s important for them to see a friendly face,” said Cherie Spino, who recently trained to volunteer with US Together. “I wanted to be a welcoming presence.”

In addition to the Syrian family, an Iraqi family also held up initially by the travel ban arrived in Toledo earlier this week.

The executive order signed Jan. 27 by President Trump restricted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. All refugee arrivals were suspended for 120 days, while the Syrian refugee program had been halted indefinitely.

It also banned citizens of those seven countries from traveling to the United States on visas for 90 days. The order prompted legal challenges and protests at airports across the country.

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Ghada, left, describes her hope to be reunited with her youngest sons now that she, her husband Khaled, center, and their eldest son Fadi have safely arrived in Toledo.

THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
Enlarge | Buy This Image

On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld U.S. District Judge James L. Robart’s decision to temporarily suspend the order, which means refugees and visa holders from those countries can continue to enter the United States for now.

It can take between 18 months and two years to complete the refugee application process.

Applicants go through vigorous screening that includes interviews with the United Nations, U.S. departments of State and Homeland Security, fingerprinting, medical screening, and background checks. In fiscal year 2016, the United States took in nearly 85,000 refugees, according to the U.S. Department of State website.

Hours before the family’s arrival, US Together staff and volunteers took furniture and household items to the West Toledo apartment the refugee family now calls home. The new arrivals join several other refugee families already settled in the apartment complex.

Contact Lauren Lindstrom at llindstrom@theblade.com, 419-724-6154, or on Twitter @lelindstrom.

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