In an unfurnished apartment on the outskirts of Cairo, Mohamed Gabr leaned against the cold wall of an empty room and recalled his journey out of Syria.

With his house and shop destroyed in the war, Gabr, 47, brought his family to Egypt and registered with the UN refugee agency.

They arrived with few possessions and soon struggled to put food on the table. Gabr's son, 23-year-old Kamal, moved back to Syria, where he married and now lives with his in-laws and newborn son.

The family's despair seemed to be ending when the International Organisation for Migration office in Cairo told them that their files had been reviewed and they would be resettled in United States. They spent the next several months meeting US officials and getting medical check-ups.

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Finally, two months ago, the family was granted visas. There were to be resettled in New Jersey on January 20.

But then, "something went wrong with my son-in-law's application, and we could not travel the first time," Gabr said.

Days later, Gabr agreed to travel with his wife and youngest daughter, Shahd, who is 13. The oldest daughter, 24-year-old Lama, her husband and son would follow them 10 days later. A sponsor had rented two houses for the family in New Jersey, and a translator had been hired to help them get started.

Then this weekend, Gabr contacted IOM office expecting to learn the date of his flight but instead was told about the executive order newly signed by President Donald Trump.

"We came to Egypt legally. We were travelling to the US legally. Why is this happening?" said his wife, Lamis El-Hamawi, 40.

But Gabr remains hopeful.

"We felt discriminated against. It is an unjust decision, but we still wish to go to the US," he said. "I know the American people understand our suffering and feel for us. They have no sectarianism and at the end, I have a right to feel free and safe. At the end, we are humans."

Luggage belonging to the family rests in their empty apartment on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. Photo / The Washington Post.
Luggage belonging to the family rests in their empty apartment on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt. Photo / The Washington Post.