‘Land of Chances’: From Jordan to the US, Syrian Refugees Overcome Obstacles to Start New Life

ABC News' David Muir traveled to Amman to check out the screening process.

ByENJOLI FRANCIS AND NICK CAPOTE
September 20, 2016, 6:47 PM

— -- When ABC News anchor David Muir traveled to Amman, Jordan, recently to survey the vetting process facing more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, they shared with him their hopes of finally reaching the United States, which they described as "the land of chances," and starting anew.

"Our country was destroyed by war," one man said. "I'm looking for a new life away from war and violence. ... We don't want to harm you. We just want to build a future."

The trip was Muir's third visit to the area in as many years.

The U.S. processes most of the Syrian refugees who begin this journey in Amman. The vetting process includes screenings by the United Nations in addition to the U.S.

Screenings can last up to two years, and even then, there is no promise that each family will be allowed to move to the U.S. Refugees face up to five interviews and each interview can last up to two, three, even four hours.

Follow along with Muir's report "Flashpoint: Refugees in America" on "World News Tonight" at 6:30 p.m. ET and "Nightline" at 12:35 a.m.

When asked how she'd respond to critics of the U.S. refugee screening process, Gina Kassem, a regional refugee coordinator with the State Department, said that interviewers were highly trained.

"They are trained to look … not [just] at the documentation and information that the refugee is saying, but also for the credibility behind the applicant's story," Kassem said. "We do the very best to ensure that absolutely nobody with an inkling of a security threat to the United States would be let in."

She said that 97 percent of all adult applicants in the pipeline have valid Syrian documentation. Their fingerprints and names are fed into a terrorist watch list and intelligence databases in the U.S. Inevitably, she said, the Department of Homeland Security makes the final decision.

In August, the Obama administration said that it had met its 2015 goal of welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees. Of the nearly 4.8 million registered Syrian refugees in the world, only .24 percent have arrived in the U.S. this year.

The final step that many hope to reach but few do is a class called Cultural Orientation, in which refugees are taught about their new home. The lessons cover U.S. laws as well as U.S. culture.

During ABC News' visit to the class, refugees shared some of the cities that they were heading to: St. Louis, Missouri; Miami, Florida; and Sacramento, California. They raised their hands in unison when asked whether they were excited to move to the U.S. None indicated that they were scared.

PHOTO: ABC News anchor David Muir traveled to Amman, Jordan, and spoke with some of the more than 600,000 refugees waiting to be assigned a new home abroad.
ABC News anchor David Muir traveled to Amman, Jordan, and spoke with some of the more than 600,000 refugees waiting to be assigned a new home abroad.
ABC News

"We are humans like you," one young woman said. "We want to be one with you so please accept us."

But, across the world and in the U.S., the exodus from war-torn Syria has fueled fears that refugees could put other countries at risk and could potentially change how the U.S. responds to the humanitarian crisis.

"We don't want to harm you. We just want to build a future."

After the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris, which killed at least 129 people, authorities said that at least one of the attackers had been carrying a fake Syrian passport, leading them to believe that he'd entered Europe as a refugee.

Almost immediately there was fear that a similar lapse could happen on American soil.

In the U.S., political pressure mounted and 32 governors announced that they'd stop accepting Syrian refugees. Protesters from Boise, Idaho, to Dallas, Texas, took to the streets in anger over President Barack Obama's plan to accept 10,000 refugees.

Nearly 7,400 miles from Amman, Jordan, in Modesto, California, where for 20 years refugees have been part of the community, critics began showing up and making their voices heard at town hall meetings.

Marie Roberson, a mother and grandmother, told Muir that she believed allowing refugees into the country put Americans at risk.

"These are terrorists. ... I'm not spouting fear. I'm just concerned. I'm concerned that it's just snowballing. We keep having attack after attack after attack," Roberson said. "We need to put them in a place until we figure it out. I don't care if it's camp. ...They need to be housed in an apartment complex somewhere until we figure out who they properly are?"

"Just because it didn't happen here in Modesto, doesn't say that it won't."

"Just because it didn't happen here in Modesto, doesn't say that it won't. Nobody can tell me that it will not happen. ... I do I feel bad for them, I really do. I mean I would not want to be them and be scrutinized. I understand that people think I'm being racist or I'm being whatever, but I'm thinking security. I want to be safe," she said.

PHOTO: Asmaa al-Bukaie, a Syrian refugee in Boise, Idaho, works for a resettlement agency.
Asmaa al-Bukaie, a Syrian refugee in Boise, Idaho, works for a resettlement agency.
ABC News

Asmaa al-Bukaie, a Syrian refugee in Boise, Idaho, said at first she thought her family would be safe in the U.S. She fled Syria for Egypt in 2013 before arriving to the U.S. Her husband was kidnapped and killed in Syria.

"I felt like it's a freedom country for everybody and it's a love country and it's a peaceful country when I arrived," said al-Bukaie, who works for a resettlement agency. "After probably Paris attacks, I felt this way -- I feel like probably I am in danger because I start to see people acting differently for ... Muslim women or Muslim with a scarf."

She said she'd even considered leaving Boise after one of her sons was punched in the face downtown for saying that he was Muslim.

"I don't need anything except welcome from people."

She said, however, that neither she nor her boys were giving up on Boise or America just yet.

"I still believe that it's freedom country for everybody," al-Bukaie said. "I have a lot of American family support me and invite me and we share the dinner, we share the religion. ... This is the welcome I want. I don't need anything except welcome from people. This is the most important for refugee, not only Syrian refugee, all refugee around the world. They need just welcome."

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