The Altanni Family. (From left, Abdulhakam, Falak, Muhammed, Adulmalak and Abrahim)
80 year-old Muhammed Altaani, his wife Falak, and three sons Abdulmalak, Abrahim, and Abdulhakam have spent the past year waiting to come to the United States. They sit in the office of their Interfaith Ministries’ caseworker, awaiting a welcoming orientation. The sound of light chatter in the office is nothing in comparison to the gunshots that forced them to leave their home.
Their home in Syria sat about 80 kilometers from the Jordanian border at a military checkpoint that, was constantly under attack. “We would just fall to the ground and take cover until the shooting ended. That was our life, those who shoot and those who shoot back, and we were in the middle. We could not bear this life anymore.”
After years of being trapped in the exchange of gunfire, and scared for their lives, the family drove 12 kilometers to the Jordanian border, where authorities would take them to a refugee camp. They would spend six weeks at the camp before relocating to the town of Irbid to live with family.
However, they struggled once in Irbid. During their hasty escape from their home, the family left all documentation in Syria. When they left the boys were full-time students. Abdulmalak was in his last year of college; studying elementary education. Abrahim was in his second year of mathematics study, and Abdulhakam was a high school student. Due to a deteriorating health condition, Muhammed was unable to provide, and the sons had to find work fast. Many of their day-labor jobs paid them little, or sometimes, nothing at all. They felt helpless.
President and CEO Martin B. Cominsky with the Altanni Family
In March of 2013, after living in Jordan for nine months, they applied for resettlement through International Organization for Migration (IOM). In September 2014, after a strenuous process of background checks, interviews and health screens, the Altaani family finally received U.S. refugee status.
A year later they were walking through Bush Intercontinental Airport, assisted by IM Refugee Services staff. Once they arrived in their new furnished apartment, Interfaith Ministries’ President & CEO Martin B. Cominsky was there to greet them with a basket of food and a warm welcome. The Altaani family spent their first week celebrating Eid al-Adha, known as the Islamic Festival of the Sacrifice, with other local Syrian families through connections made at IM.
When asked what they are thankful for during their first Thanksgiving in the United States, Muhammed said he is grateful to be safe, adding that he already feels at home. Oldest son Abdulmalak is thankful for the opportunity to finish his education and hopes to become a teacher soon. Youngest son Abdulhakam is grateful to be safe; and he hopes being in America will give him the opportunity to advocate for his sisters. Muhammed and Falak’s four daughters and children still live in Syria and hope to be resettled in the United States soon.
Although they have lost contact with loved ones, their home, and their identities due to their country’s conflict, they still find ways to see what is good in their lives and be thankful. They are kind and resilient.