BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Syrian refugee Farida Alfaawri and her four children only had three hours’ notice to gather their things and board a plane from Jordan to New York City Monday.
But they didn’t mind.
After being told four days before that they couldn’t come to America at all because of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the family, who have spent four uncertain years as refugees, were happy to find a way out.
“We’re glad you made it here,” said Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, who welcomed the family Friday at the International Institute of Connecticut.
The institute is helping the family — Farida and her daughter Mays, 20, and Huda, 17, and sons Omar, 16 and Rayid, 12 — settle into their new life in Fairfield County. They are temporarily staying in the guest house of an institute donor’s Westport home, but they will need permanent housing and assistance getting the children into schools.
They joined a second recently arrived family — Sleman and Marian Mnsor and their children Wafika, 19, Mustafa, 17, and Mohammed, 12 — for a visit with the mayor, Schools Supt. Aresta Johnson, Health Director Maritza Bond and others.
Despite tensions on the national stage about Trump’s wish to ban travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, Ganim said he was pleased to see the families made it safely to Bridgeport.
Through translator Nick Khamarji, he told them he is a second-generation American: His father is Lebanese and his mother is half Syrian, half Italian. He also mentioned that about 160 languages are spoken among the students in Bridgeport schools.
“We are a city of immigrants,” the mayor said. “So there is no confusion, I want to make sure you know we’re a welcoming city.”
Asked whether he would designate Bridgeport a sanctuary city — the rallying call of recent demonstrations — he said he would work with city leaders to discuss what measures might or might not be needed to make refugees comfortable.
“I don’t like the term sanctuary city,” he said. “It’s become divisive.”
Khamarji told the Syrian families that Bridgeport officials look forward to helping them find healthcare and schools, as well as possible housing in Bridgeport, if they choose to live here. The Mnsor family now lives in Fairfield.
“She says they’re very thankful for your help,” Khamarji translated for Alfaawri. “They’re very happy to be here.”
The family fled Syria in February 2013 and flew from Jordan to Turkey to New York City, where Iraqi people helped them, he said.
“They know that we are a giving society here in the United States,” Khamarji said, translating for Alfaawri.
In existence for more than 90 years, the International Institute has been assisting refugees for about 40 years, said President & CEO Claudia Connor.
“We have a constant flow of refugees coming into greater Bridgeport,” she said.
Connor said she asked Alfaawri what she looked forward to most in America.
“She said, 'safety,’” Connor said.