Syrian Refugees in the US • Peter Van Agtmael • Magnum Photos

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Politics

Syrian Refugees in the US

Peter Van Agtmael’s photo-essay captures the Al Hajali family as they settle into life in a Chicago suburb

Peter van Agtmael

Peter van Agtmael Mahmud Al Hajali shops in the Cermak supermarket. The Al Hajali's are part of the small wave of 2,200 Syrian Refugees of the civil war who have been granted asylum in the United States. Their son, (...)
Peter van Agtmael Mahmud Al Hajali at home. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Sham Al Hajali in her room at home. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael The Al Hajali family at a new suburban development down the road from their home. From left to right, Ahmad, Mahmud, Azizeh, Mohamed, Sham. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Azizeh video chats with relatives in Jordan, showing them the meal they are eating. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Azizeh and Ahmad Al Hajali video chat with relatives in Jordan. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Ahmad Al Hajali at dinner. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mahmud Al Hajali at home. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Sham Al Hajali in her home. An Iraqi refugee family lives on the other side. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mahmud Al Hajali looks out the window of the two family home in Aurora where his family has been resettled. An Iraqi refugee family lives on the other side. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Azizeh and Sham Al Hajali watch TV at home. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mohamed and Ahmad Alhaj Ali in West Aurora High School. The twins attend high school and work full time jobs immediately afterwards and all weekend. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mohamed and Ahmad Alhaj Ali outside West Aurora High School. The twins attend high school and work full time jobs immediately afterwards and all weekend. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Sham Al Hajali at home. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael The Al Hajali family outside their home. From left to right: Sham, Azizeh, Mahmud, Ahmad, Mohamed. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Ahmad and Mohamed swim with their sister's fiancé, Laith. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Laith Alobaidi, an Iraqi car dealer with his fiancé Sham Al Hajali at their engagement party. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mahmud Al Hajali. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Sham Al Hajali shops at the Cermak supermarket. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Ahmad Al Hajali in the Cermak supermarket where he works after school and during weekends to help his family make ends meet. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Peter van Agtmael Mohamed Al Hajali outside the Cermak supermarket where he works after school and during weekends to help his family make ends meet. Aurora, Illinois, USA. 2015. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos

Peter van Agtmael’s near decade exploring social justice, class race and history began with a project on veterans returning from war, and it has since expanded into a wider study of the everyday politics of life in the US as they play out in the lives of ordinary Americans. In 2015, this led van Agtmael to documenting the lives of a Syrian family seeking refuge in the US as they adjusted to life in the Chicago suburb of Aurora.

The Al Hajali’s were part of the small wave of 2,200 Syrian refugees of the civil war who had been granted asylum in the United States. Their son, Wissam, was initially granted asylum but his application was put on hold indefinitely. Father Mahmud, daughter Sham and twin 17-year old sons Ahmad and Mohamed work long hours at minimum wage to make ends meet.

At the time of photographing the Hajali family, around 2600 Syrian refugees had been admitted to the US. That figure had risen to 12,000 by Autumn 2016. Syrian refugees in the United States now face uncertainty as they wait to see if president elect Donald Trump will follow through with his campaign promises. In the run-up to the election Trump vowed to deport Syrian refugees – “If I win, they’re going back,” he said – and also announced plans to halt immigration from Syria and other “dangerous countries” for an undetermined period of time.