HIAS Uses its Expertise to Facilitate Reunion of Darfuri Refugee Family in U.S.

Posted on Tue, Jun 16, 2009 at 9:39 am

(New York, NY)–  A four-year-old Darfuri girl, who has languished in a displaced person camp in Sudan without her mother and father for most of her life, arrived in New York yesterday morning, where she was reunited with both parents. Wesal Adam’s arrival signaled a happy ending to her parents’ years-long struggle to bring her here to live together as one family. HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community, was instrumental in obtaining permission for her to enter the country.

“This is an incredible feeling, I can’t even describe it. Now we will become a big family – it’s the difference between day and night,” said the girl’s father, Motasim Adam, upon arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport from Amman, Jordan, where he met his daughter last week for the first time since she was nine months old to bring her home to NY.

“HIAS was so pleased to help the Adam family,” said Gideon Aronoff, President & CEO of HIAS. “We are motivated by Jewish values to welcome the stranger and rescue refugees from dangerous persecution. In this case, HIAS had both the will and the expertise to turn a potential tragedy into a joyful reunion. This situation came about because of a gap in U.S. refugee laws, which HIAS has advocated to change for years. We are gratified that there is currently a bill before Congress that will prevent situations such as these from happening in the future.”

The story of how Wesal got separated from her parents begins before her birth when her father fled his native Darfur. After fleeing persecution in Darfur and being granted asylum in the U.S. in 2002, Adam learned that his wife, Wejdan, was in a refugee camp in Chad. As the result of his visiting her in early 2004, Wejdan became pregnant and returned to Sudan to give birth to their daughter, Wesal Adam, in August 2004.

After Adam filed with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for his wife and child to join him as asylees, Wejdan was authorized to enter the U.S. in November 2006. However, because Wesal was conceived only after Adam had been granted asylum – under current law disallowing her legal entry to the U.S. – the child’s application to accompany her mother was denied.

Because living in displaced persons’ camps is particularly dangerous for women, the family had to make the gut-wrenching decision to leave the child in the camp with a family friend, with the expectation that she would join them shortly. Wedjan emigrated to the U.S., and joined her husband in New York.

Since 2008, the Adams have been working with Alan Lungen, a lawyer at the firm of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP, as pro bono clients to obtain entry to the U.S. for their daughter. Lungen first encountered Adam and heard about his story through his involvement with HIAS Young Leaders, the group of HIAS activists in their 20s and 30s.

While reviewing their case, lawyers learned of a gap in U.S. law that resulted in the denial of Wesal’s entry. In January 2009, they turned to HIAS to intervene. At the request of the Department of Homeland Security, a new petition for humanitarian parole was submitted, and through continuous advocacy and monitoring by HIAS and the law firm humanitarian parole was approved on May 12, 2009.

Two weeks ago Wesal finally left Sudan for Amman, Jordan, where her uncle lives; her father joined her there last week. They were greeted yesterday morning upon their arrival at JFK by Wedjan Adam, who is eight-months pregnant with her second child. Adam and his daughter’s travel were covered by HIAS, whose Vivian G. Prins Asylum program provides representation and support for artists, scientists, scholars, and other professionals.

Adam, a leader in the New York Darfuri community, is the past president of the Darfur People’s Association of New York (DPA), a community-based organization in Brooklyn, run by Darfuri refugees to help their own. The Adams are ecstatic that Wesal is finally together with them.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how I feel – this is such a relief! It’s my daughter, it’s a piece of my heart,” said Wedjan, as they left the airport to start a new life as a family.

Wejdan greets Wesal upon her arrival at JFKennedy Airport yesterday.
Wejdan Adam, left, and her husband Motasim Adam, with their daughter, Wesal, a four-year-old Darfuri girl who has lived most of her life without her parents in Sudan; she arrived yesterday in the U.S. yesterday, reunited through the help of HIAS, the international migration agency of the American Jewish community.

All pictures by Josh Strauss.