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Mouh Oubihi

The Syrians who want to escape the American dream

Syrian refugees are giving up hope of claiming asylum in Western countries [Getty]

Date of publication: 8 June, 2015

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Feature: Syrian refugees in America are stuck in limbo, as their asylum applications are neither accepted nor denied, writes Mouh Oubihi.

At a seminar entitled "Syrians: Ask the lawyers" in the American city of Alexandria, Virginia, the majority of the audience had one question on their minds: When will this nightmare end and why don't they just refuse our asylum applications? By the end of the seminar, it was obvious that Syrian refugees in America are stuck in limbo, as their asylum applications are neither accepted nor denied.

In attendance was Abdul Rahman Imad, who hoped the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) would deny his application, so he can apply for asylum in Canada or Germany. "I don't have legal status here and working without a permit is real servitude. Plus, the authorities are neither accepting nor denying our applications," said the Syrian activist.

"I've lost two years of my life. I'm not alone, hundreds of Syrian youth are wasting their life here in their daily struggles as they wait for documents that might or might not be issued." added Imad.

The politics of asylum

Abdul Rahman Imad was a legal advisor at the Syrian ministry of defense and when protests erupted in March 2011, he joined the revolution and has been wanted by the regime ever since. He escaped to Turkey and arrived in the United States on a cultural exchange visa, but after his passport expired, Imad became stuck in America where the Syrian embassy and consulates have since been closed.

Syrian regime authorities have recently allowed their diplomatic missions to renew Syrian passports, however dissidents have reported that their passport applications have been rejected. In the case of Imad, he is unable to travel to Canada, where the Syrian embassy remains open, to renew his passport, because he does not possess travel documents that would allow him to cross the border.

"The American government is aware of the suffering of Syrian refugees, but it refuses to act to end their suffering under the pretense of security concerns. In reality, it’s a political decision," said Imad.

Nicholas Rasmussen, the National Counterterrorism director has promised that security authorities would use all their weight to verify the identities of Syrian refugees, after fears of refugees being infiltrated by Baathists and extremists were raised. However, Diyaa al-Ruwaishdi, a Syrian lawyer living in Washington told al-Araby al-Jadeed, that Rasmussen’s promises have not materialised.

US immigration services have delayed Syrian asylum applications due to the severance of diplomatic ties between Damascus and Washington and the lack of security cooperation between the two capitals. Applications for asylum and immigration to the US are subjected to rigorous security checks and screening before being granted.

Green card weddings

     Many Syrians have resorted to green card weddings.

Despite the legal and moral controversies surrounding green card weddings, in which foreigners marry US citizens in an attempt to gain residency, many Syrians have resorted to these marriages as a faster way of gaining legal status in the country. Saad al-Ahmad, came to America from Syria on a study visa, but when the revolution started he decided to stay in the US by marrying an American citizen. "Green card weddings are a fast way to get papers, but it has landed some people in jail," said al-Ahmad.

In some case, these temporary arrangements for legal documents develop into real permanent relationships, such as the case of Barakat Nashrwan, a Syrian Kurd living in New York. He met an American woman and agreed to pay her $12 thousand to act as his wife for immigration purposes, "however, after repeated meetings and sharing some human moment, I realized that she was my match", said Nashrwan. According to Nashrwan, not all Syrians are as luck as he was, as some women have used this type of marriage to extort large amounts of money from refugees.

Escaping the American dream

Sabrine al-Firn quoted American comedian George Carlin, to describe her experience in the United States by saying: "It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it." She believes that refugees in European countries or Canada are better off than those in America, because they receive more assistance.

Sabrine, a civil engineer is planning to return to Lebanon, where she started her journey after losing hope of being granted asylum in Europe or Canada, as the US, Europe, Canada and Australia have signed agreements that prevent asylum seekers from applying to more than one country. She said: "The country of human rights and democracy refuses to make concessions or assist victims of wars and refugees," adding "when Syrian refugees arrive in America, they look for friends and acquaintances in order not to end up begging on the streets."

America's conditions

US Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration Affairs, Anne Richard told al-Araby al-Jadeed that refugees need to be "registered with the UN High Commission for Refugees" in order to be granted refugee status in the United Sates. However, Syrians who are currently in the country and are unable to leave due to expired passports of fear of returning to their country do not meet the US conditions for asylum, and thus face an unknown fate.

According to the USCIS, 4176 Syrians have applied for asylum in the United States since the start of the war in Syria in 2011, with only 1565 applications being approved.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.

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