As the plane descended at night over farm fields, Ghazweh Aljabooli reached for her 6-year-old daughter Hala. The girl was sobbing, just as she had at every takeoff and landing over the past 30 hours, “My ears hurt!” She wailed it on the flight from Amman to Paris, the flight from Paris to Houston, and now on this final leg into Des Moines. Ghazweh’s older children craned to see out windows that revealed only blackness–nothing of their future.
When the passengers filed off the jetway, Ghazweh herded her five children into the concourse and looked around, unsure of what to do next. Her husband clutched a sealed white plastic bag with the insignia of the International Organization for Migration. He had been told to keep the bag visible during their trip: something of a secret code of airports, it signaled at every stop that they were refugees who needed an escort to the next flight. But now there was no next flight, or any sign of help. Ghazweh worried about what happened next–would someone be waiting?
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This appears in the November 14, 2016 issue of TIME.
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