JERSEY CITY — After four years of fleeing and 15 hours of flying, Hussam Al Roustom walked off the plane at Newark Liberty International Airport, only to feel as if he had stepped into an American movie.
“It was like an action film in the sense that this hero had lost everyone dear to him, and then he finds himself safe — but he has nothing else to lose,” Mr. Al Roustom said in Arabic, through an interpreter. “That’s how I felt.”
Mr. Al Roustom is a refugee from Syria. Since arriving in June, he, his wife, their 3-year-old daughter and their 7-year-old son have been living in an apartment atop the Kwick Discount Center grocery store in Jersey City. Their journey ended even as four million Syrians were still looking for a home, throwing Europe and the Middle East into a humanitarian crisis.
Mr. Al Roustom was one of only 1,682 Syrian refugees admitted to the United States since Oct. 1, 2014, and among 78 resettled in the New York metropolitan area.
Those numbers are about to multiply. President Obama has pledged to accept at least 10,000 displaced Syrians over the next year, increasing the annual cap to 85,000, from 70,000, for refugees from all countries.
Mr. Obama’s decision will accelerate a vast and largely unknown refugee resettlement system run not by the government, but by private aid organizations that the government has been turning to for decades.
With roots dating to World War II, which incited the largest refugee exodus of the 20th century, a network of nine aid groups with affiliates in 180 communities across the country provide an array of essential services for new arrivals, including rented homes, jobs and English-language classes.
Aid groups like the International Rescue Committee have long been doing this work, but it was not until 1980 that Congress formalized the partnership, driven by the notion that humanitarian aid groups can mobilize resources better than government agencies because of their roots in the communities.
As they prepare for a new wave of Syrian refugees, the aid groups know they may have to quell concerns some communities have about security risks, but federal officials say refugees undergo a rigorous screening process — as long as three years — before being allowed into the United States.
“We are ready for 100,000 Syrians,” said Sarah Ivory, the regional relief director for Church World Service, which resettled Mr. Al Roustom. “Ten thousand is barely more than we already anticipated. It’s not some big ratcheting up of our program.”
The government gives local offices of the nine aid organizations $1,975 per refugee to cover initial rent, clothing and food, in addition to covering administrative costs for the national offices that comes to an average of $270 per refugee, the State Department said.
On April 15, as Mr. Al Roustom sat in a Jordanian refugee camp, he had no idea that a committee was deciding where he would start his life. Representatives from the nine organizations took part in a weekly Wednesday meeting in Arlington, Va., reviewing a spreadsheet of names and data that would become animate in a matter of months.
Somewhat like a draft conducted by professional sports teams to choose players, each organization selects a prescribed number of refugees in several rounds, with the order rotating every week. They select cases depending on whether an applicant has a relative or a friend near an aid group’s field office. If not, they consider an applicant based on languages spoken, whether others from that country live nearby (there is a large Syrian community in Paterson, N.J., for example), medical concerns and other specific issues, such as sexual orientation. Only two of the nine agencies have resettled Syrian refugees in the New York area, in part because of the high cost of living.
“You can’t think too hard about the fact that you are greatly influencing someone’s future,” said David Mills, the associate director for prearrival services for Church World Service. “You do your homework and place them where all the evidence would point to them flourishing as they start new lives.”
Mr. Al Roustom, 36, first uprooted his life in 2011, when the Syrian civil war erupted in the city of Homs. The supermarket he owned was ransacked, and one of his two homes was destroyed. His son, Wesam, who has autism and was frightened by the shelling, stopped speaking.
In March 2013, Mr. Al Roustom paid a smuggler to take him and his family through the desert, leaving them to hike over a mountain into Jordan. The police then took them to the Zaatari refugee camp, where he registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The United Nations’ refugee agency determines if return is not possible because of past persecution or fear of persecution. If so, the agency refers the most vulnerable cases to the resettlement support center in that region.
In Jordan, the International Organization for Migration, a global nonprofit group, administers the resettlement program for the State Department, compiling a case file for United States Customs and Immigration Services.
A State Department spokeswoman said refugees were subject to “the highest level of security checks of any category of traveler to the United States.”
As Mr. Al Roustom’s application was being considered, he left the refugee camp after squalid conditions made his children constantly sick.
They moved in with relatives in Irbid, Jordan, while Mr. Al Roustom worked as a blacksmith. Since it is illegal for Syrians to work in Jordan, he was arrested, then sent with his family to another refugee camp for five months.
Once the United States government approved his application for refugee status, the Church World Service office in New Jersey — the newest of its 33 field offices — got to work. The office found him a three-bedroom apartment and furnished it with donations. On June 16, they picked up the family at the airport, spotting Mr. Al Roustom because he was wearing an International Organization for Migration refugee credential around his neck.
All that remains from the ruins of Mr. Al Roustom’s life he keeps in a white plastic bag from the migration agency — his Syrian military identification, his United Nations papers, his travel records, his I-94 form admitting him to the country. The award-winning poems he wrote were destroyed in Syria.
The first job Church World Service found for him was, appropriately enough, at a moving company. Alex Minz, who owns White Glove Moving in Bayonne, N.J., said he liked to hire refugees because he, too, was one. He left the former Soviet Union for Israel as a teenager and then settled in the United States. “We see it as a holy thing,” he said.
Because the hours were too unpredictable, Mr. Al Roustom found another job through a neighbor, baking pita overnight at Toufayan, an Armenian family company in Ridgefield, N.J.
Hoping to ease the transition for other Syrians, he has volunteered to move furniture into a new refugee family’s apartment, and in August he and his wife, Suha, hosted a welcome feast for the newest Syrian families in Jersey City.
“It’s like taking someone from a very small, dark room to a very, very big world,” Mr. Al Roustom said. “This is why I want to help others go through what I have gone through.”
Mahmoud Mahmoud, the director for Church World Service in Jersey City, said that though Mr. Al Roustom’s refugee application was probably helped because of his son’s special needs, he did not exploit that. “Through all his personal circumstances, every adversity he had to face, he has not let any single obstacle deter him from moving forward,” Mr. Mahmoud said.
Not every refugee has adapted as quickly.
Mohamed Darbi, 42, came with his wife and three children at the end of July, and said he was dismayed at his apartment, which seemed rundown.
Mr. Darbi, a carpenter from Syria who fled in 2012, was grateful to be alive but anxious over not being able to find work to pay rent once the money from Church World Service ran out. He had, Mr. Mahmoud said, turned down a dishwashing job.
Mr. Darbi said he was heartened that his son, Shaker, 5, and daughters, Nabiha, 13, and Hajar, 12, were enjoying school.
“This is the end of our journey,” he said alongside his wife, Amira, a former high school physics teacher in Syria. “But they have their entire future ahead of them.”
Mr. Al Roustom said sometimes refugees might come across as frustrated because they were overwhelmed.
“The C.W.S. is not a magic lamp,” he said. “And Mahmoud is not the genie that would make your wishes his command. I tell people not to be scared and to have patience and to work hard. And perhaps rely on the support you’re given, but not to overuse it and abuse it.”
To dispel security concerns about the refugees, Mr. Mahmoud met with lawmakers in Washington recently — and took Mr. Al Roustom with him.
At a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee about the security and the cost of the refugee program, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, introduced Mr. Al Roustom to the panel. “He is not a terrorist, and he’s not a fiscal drain on America,” Mr. Durbin said. “We should be proud that our country has welcomed Mr. Al Roustom and his family. That is what our country’s refugee settlement program is all about.”
On the train home, Mr. Al Roustom received a joyous call from his wife. Mr. Mahmoud heard the conversation in Arabic:
“She said to Hussam: ‘It’s ironic to imagine that just a few months ago you were in a refugee camp. And now, you’re inside the doors of the United States Congress.’ ”