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Syrian family continues to wait

Mariam, and her youngest son, Ahmad, bravely share their journey and hope for the future

Photo: Patricia Repolda

When war reached her family's home in Syria, Mariam recounts feeling relieved and grateful that her family remained intact, even though they had lost everything.  

But it wasn’t long until they found themselves torn apart - with the travel ban instrumental in prolonging the family's separation.  

Flight from Syria

Even as war ravaged their community, Mariam and her family tried their best to continue their daily routine, until one painful event pushed them to seek refuge elsewhere. "The army surrounded the school and my children were kept there from 8 am to 3 am the next day. The manager of the school called me and told me that my son and daughter passed away because the army is shooting at the school. [It was actually] My children's friends who were [shot] and passed away on the floor. My children got blood on them and they fainted. The manager thought they too passed away," Mariam explains. 

It was not until the next day, when the children finally made it home from school, that Mariam and her husband found out that they were still alive.  

Shortly after this, the family decided to move to Lebanon.  

But life wasn’t easy and surviving proved to be difficult. "My husband would be working one day, and then have no work for 10 days," says Mariam.  
Hoping to find a place where they could once again build a home, the family moved back to Syria to obtain a visa to migrate to Egypt. They received their visas, but Mariam's sister in law was still waiting for hers. "My husband decided to stay [in Syria] because his sister couldn’t read or write. Someone had to help her." 

Reluctantly, Mariam and her four children headed to Egypt. Shortly after they arrived, she received the news that her husband was not granted entry. While reviewing what options they had to reunite, Mariam ensured that her children could continue their education. However, they experienced severe hardships in school, saying, "the [students], they tried to put coins in my son's mouth."  

The family also found it difficult to access medical services and adequate food.  

As their situation became increasingly difficult, Mariam decided that their only option was to attempt to reach Europe where they had some family and friends. As the family was crossing the Mediterranean, on a boat full of other refugees, they were blocked by Egyptian authority and were made to turn back.  

Back in Egypt, Mariam, her children and the other refugees they were traveling with, were detained for a month.  

Starting a new chapter

When Mariam and her children were released, the International Organization for Migration helped them start the security screening process to resettle in the United States. Mariam was optimistic that once in the U.S. she can apply for family reunification so that her husband can finally join them.  

In 2016, the family arrived in Tucson. "I felt like a stranger. Everything was strange," says Mariam. Thankfully, a welcoming Tucson community helped ease the family's transition. "The children, they like school. There is no violence. No bad treatment for my children. Here we can go to the hospital," says Mariam. 

New hurdles

As soon as she became eligible, Mariam began the family reunification process for her husband to join them in Tucson. But in January 2017, Mariam feared that the possibility of her husband coming to the U.S. diminished when the president announced the first Executive Order and the travel ban.  

Mariam and her family felt the ups and downs that came along with the travel ban's journey through the legal system. In June, the Supreme Court allowed the travel ban to continue; only permitting entry to individuals with bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.  

Mariam and her family felt a glimmer of hope during these dark times. "My husband was informed in August that he can come. He can travel at the end of the month. He sent his passport to the embassy to receive the visa." 

August came and went and still, the family waited. In October, Mariam's husband received a call from the embassy, asking him retrieve his passport. His case has been put on hold and no travel arrangements can be made for him at this time.  

The family's fears heightened in early December as the Supreme Court permitted the full enforcement of the travel ban. 

The wait continues

Today, Mariam and her family continue to wait. Her children desperate to reunite with their father. While directly impacted by the travel ban, Mariam reports that her children are determined to give back to their new community, saying, "They found good treatment here. And that encourages them to get good marks. They want to be doctors. One wants to be a policeman."