Driven from Iraq by IS, family struggles to make it to US

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Iraqi Christian refugees struggle to reach new life in Michigan
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Iraqi Christian refugees struggle to reach new life in Michigan
Iraqi refugee Nizar Kassab poses for a pocture with his family in their temporary home in Beirut, Lebanon February 4, 2017. REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi
Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, carries his family's luggage ahead of their travel to travel to the United States, Lebanon February 7, 2017. Picture taken February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Members of al-Qassab family, Iraqi Christian refugees from Mosul, prepare their luggage ahead of their travel to the United States at their temporary home in Beirut, Lebanon February 7, 2017. Picture taken February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
The al-Qassab family, Iraqi Christian refugees from Mosul, pose near their luggage ahead of their travel to the United States at their temporary home in Beirut, Lebanon February 7, 2017. Picture taken February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Members of al-Qassab family, Iraqi Christian refugees from Mosul, prepare their luggage ahead of their travel to the United States at their temporary home in Beirut, Lebanon February 7, 2017. Picture taken February 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, sees his daughter off at Beirut international airport ahead of her travel to the United States, Lebanon February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, pushes his family's luggage at Beirut international airport ahead of their travel to the United States, Lebanon February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Nizar al-Qassab, an Iraqi Christian refugee from Mosul, sees his children off at Beirut international airport ahead of their travel to the United States, Lebanon February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab wears her refugee immigration documents around her neck as she and two of her children move their luggage after arriving at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab stands outside with two of her children as a relative picks them up at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab is reunited with her son Rami after arriving with her other children at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab wipes tears from her eye as her daughter cries while thinking of her father who was left behind in Lebanon because he could not get a visa to come with them, as they arrive at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab (R) and three of her children are greeted by a relative picking them up from at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Rami Al-Qassab gives a bouquet of flowers to his mother, Iraqi refugee Amira, as he is reunited with her and his siblings after they arrived at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Rami Al-Qassab (R) hugs his brother after being reunited with his Iraqi refugee mother Amira (L) and siblings after they arrived at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab (2nd L) and four of her children are reunited with her son Rami (L) as they arrive at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook
Iraqi refugee Amira Al-Qassab (2nd R) and four of her children are reunited with her son Rami as he uses his phone to Facetime the event to a relative as they arrive at Detroit Metro Airport in Romulus, Michigan, U.S. February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
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BEIRUT, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Amira al-Qassab and her family flitted from one Iraqi city to another fleeing Islamic State, then waited three years in Beirut until they were cleared to move to the United States.

But their plans to fly out last week were derailed after U.S. President Donald Trump froze refugee arrivals.

"We were so surprised and unsettled. It was chaos," Amira, 45, said. "I didn't even unpack our clothes."

Amira had taken her two youngest children out of school, the others had quit their jobs, and their suitcases had remained packed for weeks before a U.S. judge temporarily suspended the travel ban.

SEE ALSO: Donations pour in for Muslim foster father who cares for dying kids

As the family left for Michigan on Wednesday lugging 10 suitcases, they hoped to end a long road -- still fraught with fear -- to resettling as refugees in the United States.

"Everything's been ready, we had just been waiting for a phone call. They told us to go to the airport at midnight," Amira said.

A federal judge last week blocked Trump's order temporarily barring refugees and nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries, including Iraq and Syria. The ruling opened a brief window for travelers who had been waylaid to rush to the United States while the legal limbo continues.

"We're quite afraid President Trump will halt travels again," Amira said as she prepared to board a flight with four of her children, aged 7 to 22.

The Trump administration has said the ban would help prevent terrorism but opponents assailed it as unconstitutional.

A U.S. federal appeals court heard arguments on Tuesday over whether to restore Trump's order. The case may ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ban led to protests across U.S. cities and chaos at airports overseas after visa holders were kept from boarding flights, detained at American airports or denied entry.

"We were really happy we would travel" but it was bittersweet, said Amira, whose husband Nizar was denied resettlement to the United States twice.

This marked the first time they have been apart since they married nearly 30 years ago and they did not know when or where they would meet again.

"I don't know what my fate will be," said Nizar, 52, whose two brothers resettled in Michigan about four years ago.

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Scenes from US airports after Trump's travel restriction
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Scenes from US airports after Trump's travel restriction
Hossein Khoshbakhty wipes tears from his eyes while speaking during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Homa Homaei, a U.S. Citizen from Iran, is embraced by a lawyer working to help her Iranian family members effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Port Authority Police Department block an entrance as protesters gather outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S. president Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Yang
Attorney Talia Inlender, (C), works on paperwork with lawyers for family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Lawyers work on paperwork to help family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Demonstrators gather outside of John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) airport to protest U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order blocking visitors from seven predominantly Muslim nations in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. Friday's executive order suspending refugee resettlements and barring entry to people from seven Middle East nations, is 'not a Muslim ban,' President Trump said. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Lawyers work on paperwork for family members of passengers effected by the travel ban outside of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Sarah Saedian speaks with an attorney about her Iranian relatives as lawyers work to help family members of passengers effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty speaks during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty, (L), speaks with attorney Talia Inlender about his Iranian family members effected by the travel ban as Homa Homaei, (2nd L), looks on outside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection office at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Sarah Saedian holds a bouquet of roses as she speaks with attorneys about her Iranian relatives working to help her family members effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Hossein Khoshbakhty speaks during an interview about his Iranian brother, a U.S. Green Card holder effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
Attorney Talia Inlender, (R), speaks with Hossein Khoshbakhty, (L), and Homa Homaei, family members of Iranian passengers effected by the travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon
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In Beirut, the family lived in a small, dingy apartment in a suburb. Nizar was not able to find a job, he said. Their son, 22, worked at a factory to make rent while their daughter, 18, worked to cover food and living expenses.

"We had waited a long time, and our situation here is really bad," he said. "My children don't have a future here. So I was forced to let them go."

Last year, the United States set a quota to take in 2,500 refugees of all nationalities living in Lebanon, UNHCR spokeswoman Dana Sleiman said.

Trump's order also sought to prioritize refugees fleeing religious persecution, a move he said separately was aimed at helping Christians fleeing the war in Syria.

The Qassab family, Iraqi Christians from Mosul, first left their home when unidentified men tried to kidnap Amira at the school where she worked as a janitor.

"Daesh came and kicked us out, so we fled further to the north," said Nizar, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. They trekked through Iraq, staying in Erbil and Dohuk, and ended up in Beirut in 2014.

"I feared for my wife and children. We sold everything we had and came here," he said.

The family had barely gotten some respite from the instability of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq before the threat of Islamic State militants emerged, Nizar said.

They no longer cared where they ended up, his wife added, they just wanted to find some peace.

"My children are drained. They worked just to pay the rent. We barely made a living," Nizar added.

"I can't go to America anymore. I don't know why...I'm parting with my family," said Nizar , bursting into tears. "How am I going to live alone?"

The Qassabs' eldest son Rami, 26, had already resettled to Michigan two months earlier to find them all an apartment.

"He told us America is beautiful," Amira said. "But it takes some time to settle in."

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