Life in Texas looks a lot different than it did in war-torn Syria, according to Faez al Sharaa.
The 28-year-old al Sharaa, his 26-year-old wife Shaza and their two daughters — 4-month-old Sara and 14-month-old Sham — share a one-bedroom Richardson apartment that the family has rented since February when they were first placed in the United States.
“It is nice. It is good,” al Sharaa told NBC 5 through an interpreter. “Living here is a pretty normal life.”
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The al Sharaa family is far from alone in being a refugee family resettled in the Lone Star State. Texas has taken in 7,214 refugees, according to the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement, more than any other state.
Refugees being resettled in the United States are required to find employment within six months of their arrival, according to government regulations.
The al Sharaa family was placed in Texas for the same reason so many people choose to move here on their own: The job market and the low cost of living.
Faez, who worked for a health insurance company in Syria, now works at a Dallas-area Wal-Mart. Shaza is now a stay-at-home mother after working as a school teacher in Syria.
“The best thing [about Texas] is the opportunity for employment,” Faez said. “Here, anyone who has a goal to pursue or a dream, it is possible for them to reach that goal and reach that dream here.”
Faez and Shaza fled their home in Daraa in 2013. Civil war had made Faez's home too dangerous.
“At any moment, at any given time, you can be killed,” he said. “With no security, I had no choice but to leave my country.”
The al Sharaas paid smugglers to transport them into neighboring Jordan, where they initially sought refuge in the Zaatari refugee camp — home to about 150,000 Syrian refugees at the time.
“This is the worst place that you can be,” Faez told NBC 5 of the Zaatari camp. “The hardships and the difficulties felt by the Syrian people here are felt more at this camp then back home in Syria.”
Once in Jordan, Faez and Shaza sought refugee status with the United Nations Refugee Agency, the UNHCR. It was the UNHCR that assigned the al Sharaa family to the United States, and Texas, according to Faez.
What followed was a more than two year process of background checks by several government agencies, including the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center.
“Refugees are the most vetted population entering the United States,” said Daley Ryan, Deputy Director of the Dallas office of the International Rescue Committee, a non-profit that helps families like the al Sharaas find housing, jobs and access to social services.
Ryan told NBC 5 he understands the fear, following the attacks in Paris, that is helping to fuel reactions here at home like those of more than two dozen governors — including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — who have moved to reject Syrian refugees from being resettled in their states.
“You can always understand fear of the unknown. I think that’s human nature,” Ryan said. “What’s important to remember, however, is this [refugee resettlement process] doesn’t have to be unknown.”
“America is a welcoming country,” Ryan added. “We’ve welcomed refugees throughout our history. And there’s no reason to change that now.”
“The first and foremost responsibility of government is to keep its people safe,” Abbott told reporters at a recent event in Dallas. “To the extent any Syrian refugee is allowed in the country, we are playing the same game of risk that Europe played. As Governor of the State of Texas, I will not roll the dice and take the risk on allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger.”
In his Richardson apartment, Faez al Sharaa emphasized that neither he, nor any member of his family are terrorists.
“It is 100 percent wrong for him to assume this,” he said about Abbott’s concern about terrorists posing as refugees. “We are 100 percent against terrorists. We are 100 percent against the attacks that happened in Paris.”
Three members of the al Sharaa family are now planning a path toward U.S. citizenship, according to Faez. All except their daughter Sara, who was born in Dallas and is already an American citizen.
“My daughters are my life,” Faez said. “They are bringing me relief. They have given me hope in these times of hardship.”
Faez al Sharaa emphasized that he is grateful for the opportunities afforded to him and his family in Texas.
"My body is here," Faez said. "But my soul and my thoughts are back in Syria."