* After months of fundraising and networking with the local Muslim community, the Vashon Resettlement Committee has brought one man and two families who had fled unrest in Syria to the island. This piece is the first in a series about the refugees and will tell the story of the Mustafa family.
As Syria’s civil war began and the city of Aleppo and surrounding areas became hotbeds of violence, 10-year-old Yamama Al Mustafa became ill. It soon became too dangerous for the family, who lived in Idlib, just outside Aleppo, to take her to the hospital, so they decided to flee.
Two weeks ago, the family of seven moved into a home on Maury Island surrounded by landscapes far different from the desert found in their home country. In Idlib, the family lived in a home surrounded by orchards that produced olives, figs and cherries. Mustafa Al Mustafa, the family’s father, proudly showcased the home through photos on his cell phone during the Monday interview with The Beachcomber. He said most of the plants were planted by his father and grandfather generations ago.
The home on Vashon is the third place they’ve lived since they uprooted from Syria and means yet another school for the five children and the challenge of finding a community. After leaving Syria, the family lived in a refugee camp in Turkey for three and a half years while Yamama underwent treatment.
“We left everything. It was hard,” 16-year-old Huthaifa Al Mustafa said Monday, translating for his family and recalling the move.
From Turkey, the family moved to Tukwila, Washington, where they had been for roughly one and a half years before coming to Vashon. There, the children were in school and the family had found a community of refugees. But then the Al Mustafas met islanders Erin Durrett and Mary Rose, members of the Vashon Resettlement Committee who were looking to bring refugees to the island.
“Mary and I were in communication with the MAPS (Muslim Association of Puget Sound) mosque in Redmond. They introduced us and we slowly started talking about bringing them here,” Durrett said.
But the family needed talking into to leave all the connections they had made in Tukwila behind, according to Huthaifa.
The Al Mustafas had a great situation in Tukwila, Durrett said, but they saw something in the Vashon community that led them to uproot once again.
Jamila Al Dahir, Mustafa’s wife, said that when Durrett and Rose came to visit, she “saw good people and wanted to be a part of the community.”
“We had a connection (Durrett and Al Dahir). We trusted each other,” Al Dahir said.
The family moved into a home that was offered up by an islander who received a job in Canada and will be living there for at least one year. The funds gathered by the community can support the Al Mustafas for six months, until Mustafa and Al Dahir, both accountants back in Syria, can find work. Both were attending classes at Highline College to learn English before moving to Vashon.
“They made a sacrifice. They’re taking a step into yet another new community, and in doing that, we have a made a commitment to them to help and welcome them,” Durrett said.
She said they’ve had luck finding islanders to help with teaching English; the next step is to get Mustafa certified to work as an accountant in the U.S. and find both he and Al Dahir work they will love.
“We need to get the English up to par first,” Durrett said.
As for the children, Huthaifa, who did the translating for this interview, said they hope to be good members of the community, make new friends and do well in school.
“School and friends, that’s what I hope for,” he said.
But he and his 15-year-old brother, Bassam, have one other hope: to ride the Passport to Pain in September. The two rode Cascade Bicycle Club’s Seattle to Portland ride earlier this month and ride their bikes regularly.
All of the children — except for 20-year-old Khalid Al Mustafa who is attending Highline — will start school in Vashon schools this fall.