MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The Sammouneh family is settling into life in South Florida.
They have new friends, a new apartment and new hope for the future after leaving their home in war-torn Syria.
“Now it’s more dangerous than when we left,” Raghad Sammouneh said. “The house where we were (in Damascus), it was dangerous. Now there is no electricity and no water. It’s more dangerous now.”
Raghad, 19, said she and her parents and her two younger brothers arrived in Miami on January 17th, just days before President Donald Trump took office and promptly signed an executive order banning travel from Syria and other Muslim-majority countries.
“We were pretty worried because can we make it before he will be the president or not? We made it three days before he became the president. We are here and we are happy to be here,” Raghad said.
She said they were vetted for over a year and a half, and lived in Turkey for several years, before being granted permission to come to the U.S.
And while they are happy to be here, together and safe, her father Mouafak acknowledges they still miss their homeland.
“It’s very difficult. You left all your life, your country, your family,” Mouafak Sammouneh told CBS 4’s Lauren Pastrana. “We look for peace, to live a natural life.”
Through a translator, also from Syria, Safaa Sammouneh explains what it’s like to see her children smile in their new country.
“She’s very happy to see her kids happy and relaxed,” translator Nour Hunaidi, a student from Syria studying in the U.S., said on Safaa’s behalf. “And Mouafak said the good people in America have made it easier for them to adapt. He’s just very thankful for the American people.”
Among those making the Sammounehs feel at home is Jose Vega, the director of World Relief Miami, an organization that “partners with local churches across the globe to provide disaster response, health and child development, refugee support, economic development, and peacebuilding”
“You don’t have to be afraid,” Vega said as a message to the community. “This is a time to show love and compassion and understand that this family needs community around them.”
As President Trump prepared to sign a new travel ban executive order set to take effect March 16th, the Sammounehs moved into their new apartment this past weekend.
Raghad’s tears of sadness turned to tears of joy.
“I have hope,” she said. “I want to think about the future. I want to start a new life.”
The Sammounehs received a copy of the Declaration of Independence as a housewarming gift.
Raghad and her brothers plan to learn English and go to school, and her mother has already started cooking for families around town.
They say they have felt nothing but love from people here in South Florida, and are looking forward to making this their new home.
Vega says 1,800 refugees arrived in South Florida between October 2015 and September 2016.
Some of the volunteers who helped the Sammounehs move into their home come from Australia, Somalia, Syria Jamaica, Cuba, Pakistan India and Romania.
For information on how you can support refugee families arriving in South Florida, visit World Relief / Miami.
The local art community is also coming together to help.
“Refuge in Paint” features the art of Syrian children. The exhibit will be held from March 29th to April 2nd at the Nader Art Museum Latin America.
All proceeds and donations will go directly to art projects with Syrian youth in refugee camps.
For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1246852795361798/.