Deborah Amos | KUOW News and Information

Deborah Amos

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States, is not known for surprises. But in a sudden shift in power, the 31-year-old son of the 81-year-old Saudi king moved one step closer to the throne on Wednesday.

King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud promoted Mohammed bin Salman, his youngest son, to crown prince. At the same time, the king ended the career of his nephew, 57-year-old Mohammed bin Nayef, the previous crown prince, who had served as interior minister since 2015.

Groups that resettle refugees in the United States are facing uncertainty, disarray and possible deep budget cuts as a result of President Trump's executive order on immigration, even after a California appeals court has temporarily halted enforcement.

Here's why:

The federal appeals court that blocked the president's travel ban on people from seven majority-Muslim nations did not directly rule out two provisions in the executive order. Refugee resettlement agencies are scrambling to figure out what they will do if those provisions survive.

The Trump administration says it is suspending all refugee admissions to the United States until it can come up with a plan for "extreme vetting."

So what could that mean?

Refugees are already subjected to multiple interviews and a security vetting by nine U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies that check their backgrounds, social media activity and the reasons they fled their countries. The process usually takes 18 months or more, according to resettlement agencies.

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After a presidential campaign that divided the country on immigration, some of the most fervent anti-refugee advocates say their views and agenda have now moved into the mainstream under President Donald Trump. His appointments, including top White House advisers and his nominee for attorney general, are powerful allies who support suspending the U.S. refugee resettlement program — the largest in the world — or an outright ban on accepting refugees from "terror-prone" countries.

When Almothana Alhamoud, a 31-year-old Syrian data analyst, arrived in Chicago two years ago after fleeing the Syrian war, he jumped at his first job offer, a nightshift cashier at a convenience store.

"When I came over here I just want to find anything to survive," he says over dinner with his family in Chicago. His parents and two sisters fled Damascus six months after he did. The family has applied for asylum in the U.S.

Osama, a Syrian refugee who resettled five months ago in Princeton, N.J., did not sleep on election night after listening to the results.

"The whole world is affected by American elections," he said during an English lesson with his wife, Ghada, the next morning at their dining room table. The family, which still has relatives in Syria, has asked that it be identified by first names only.

Fadi al-Asmi has learned to adjust his Syrian pastries to American tastes at the City Steam Brewery café in downtown Hartford, Connecticut. "America, chocolate!" he says, as he adjusts his baseball cap and serves his latest chocolate-encrusted confection.

It's not the only thing he's learned since he and his family were catapulted into a new life after arriving as refugees in May.

On a bright spring afternoon this May, Tom Charles drove to Newark International Airport to pick up a family of Syrian refugees. Charles is an attorney and a bank consultant, devoted to data and details, but he had scant information on the family that would become part of his life for the next year.

He was also sure the Syrian family knew nothing about his team from Nassau Presbyterian Church, who would drive them from the airport to a donated house in Princeton, N.J.

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When 31 governors called for a ban on Syrian refugees coming into the U.S. after last November's terrorist attacks in Paris, it united faith-based communities across the country. They are challenging the wave of opposition to these refugees by taking a leading role in resettling them.

The Obama administration is on track to make its goal of admitting and resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees before the end of September, despite concerns that Islamic militants could enter with them.

"The current pace of arrivals will continue thru the end of this fiscal year so we may exceed 10,000," said Anne Richard, assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugee and Migration in a conference call with reporters on Friday. "For next year, we will continue to welcome large numbers of Syrians."

Four years ago, veteran war correspondent Marie Colvin, an American reporter for a British newspaper, was killed in Syria.

Now her family has filed a lawsuit alleging that high-ranking Syrian officials deliberately killed the award-winning reporter.

Armed with a 3-D printer and a computer-guided stonecutter, cultural heritage advocates are taking on the jackhammers of the Islamic State and its destructive ideology.

When Islamic State militants seized the Syrian desert town of Palmyra last May, an orgy of demolition began. Using dynamite, fire, bulldozers and pickaxes, the wrecking crew targeted 2,000-year-old Greco-Roman temples, monuments and stone statues. Palmyra's 20-foot-tall Arch of Triumph, a symbolically important monument, lay in ruins.

Here's something that never used to happen in Saudi Arabia:

In the wake of the crisis with Iran, Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom's deputy crown prince and defense minister, as well as King Salman's favored son, gave a five-hour interview to a reporter from The Economist, and the British news magazine published the entire transcript.

I first saw Saudi Arabian women "pushing normal" before I knew this concept had a name. I was walking down Tahlia Street in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. It's a trendy weekend hangout spot, a strip of fast food burger and brand name coffee shops popular with young Saudi men.

It was striking to see three young women stride down this all-male domain defying the kingdom's conservative social codes enforced by the religious police and the judgments of family and neighbors.

The first Saudi Arabian women to vote celebrated with hugs and selfies and lingered at the polls to share the moment on Saturday. Women won only 20 seats out of more than 2,000 in local councils across the country, but it was more than the candidates expected.

In the western coastal city of Jeddah, one winner was Lama al-Suleiman, a prominent businesswoman and British-trained biochemist. She says the toughest campaign battle was fighting tradition in a male-dominated society.

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For young Saudis, life is conducted online, on phones and on gaming platforms. Saudi Arabia is a young country. The fastest-growing segment of the population is under 30 years old. In this deeply conservative society, with its strict moral codes of behavior and gender segregation, many young Saudis turn to social media and technology to entertain and express themselves.

For women, especially, it's a social revolution.

The State Department has approved a $1.29 billion arms sale to Saudi Arabia, which includes as many as 13,000 precision guided weapons or smart bombs. The sale comes as Human Rights Watch charges that Saudi airstrikes in Yemen "have indiscriminately killed and injured civilians."

It's election season in Saudi Arabia, and for the first time, women can vote and campaign for seats on local municipal councils. More than 900 women have put themselves forward as candidates. The ballot is next week, in a small and limited step towards democracy.

At a political meeting for women in Riyadh, professors, writers and activists gather to talk about the campaign. There are jugs of strong coffee and a snack table. Smartphones are held close.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As more Syrian refugees board rickety boats on the Turkish coast, the Islamic State is cranking up its propaganda campaign.

The refugee crisis is also becoming a crisis for ISIS, as Syrians reject the group's claim that the so-called caliphate offers a safe haven, and the refugees instead opt for the dangerous journey to Europe.

In recent weeks, ISIS has put out almost a dozen videos with messages that denounce the refugees, threaten them with the horrors of living among "unbelievers" and plead with them to join the caliphate.

Syria doesn't have a history of free and open elections, but in the past few weeks Syrians have been voting with their feet. After four years of brutal civil war, Syrians are registering a sense of hopelessness and are willing to risk dangerous journeys for a chance to start over again in Europe.

As the numbers mount, with Europe overwhelmed, the blame game has begun. Why don't the richest Gulf Arab states — the diplomatic and financial sponsors of Syria's rebel groups — resettle these desperate refugees?

Hiba Ezzideen, a 29-year-old Syrian activist, recently made it to a refugee camp near the German border after a perilous 20-day journey. She had set off alone from southern Turkey, walked for hours, rode in a sealed truck, boarded an overcrowded raft and slept on the streets and in a jail cell.

A college English professor before the war, Ezzideen first joined the protests against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011 and hoped the popular demonstration could transform her country.

It's the summer session at the Al Salam School in Reyhanli, a town in southern Turkey, just across the border from Syria. Girls are practicing their shots on the outdoor basketball court. A class of 8-year-olds is busy with English language drills. The computer lab is open.

Many of these Syrian refugees live in desperate conditions, but for a few hours a day there is the familiar world of school.

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