The Last Plane to America: A Refugee Family’s Journey to Charlotte

Refugees in Charlotte
Charlotte Magazine, May 2017

OSAMA SPENT NEARLY FOUR YEARS bringing his family this close to safety. He led them out of war in Syria and into Jordan as refugees. They endured violence, sickness, and financial hardship. What should’ve been the easiest part—the flight to Charlotte from Jordan—endangered the entire journey.

At first, confusion was the problem. On January 19, a miscommunication between Osama and the U.N. Refugee Agency office caused the family to miss their flight.

The next time, it was weather. On January 20—the day Americans inaugurated Donald Trump as president in Washington—Osama’s family sat on a plane that couldn’t leave the tarmac in Amman. Fog rolled in; the plane returned to the terminal at Queen Alia Airport.

Sickness came next. Osama’s three-year-old daughter, Hiba, became very ill, so he postponed their January 25 flight to take her to a specialist.

Their next flight was set for January 30. It seemed like another minor delay in this years-long process. But on January 27, Trump signed an executive order barring all refugees from entering the United States for 120 days, and barring Syrian refugees indefinitely.

Osama’s family had close to nothing by now. They’d left their home and sold almost all of their belongings to prepare for the move. They spent most of their money buying food during their 11 days living at the airport. So they sat in the terminal, a family of six without a home to return to or the money for a new one.

“I hear the story (of the executive order) and feel like my heart would stop,” Osama tells me a few weeks later, through a translator.

Continue to read entire story in Charlotte magazine.