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How a Syrian lawyer saw his American dream turned upside down

By Aisha Shtiwi

When Syrian refugee Feras Almouqdad, 29, received a call inviting him to undergo the vetting process to be resettled in the United States, he was over the moon. Today, he sits in his Jordan apartment, surrounded by suitcases, his dreams of a better life thwarted.

“I felt happy when IOM (International Organization for Migration) called me to do the interview. I went with my family to their office, we did the interview, and two months later we did the medical test and things went well. We were expecting to travel in February until this unfair Executive Order came out,” said Feras.

 “I was shocked by Trump's order that bans Syrian refugees from entering the United States. What the Statue of Liberty represents is friendship between nations and freedom from oppression, but what Trump’s order represents is to the contrary,” he added.

The young lawyer was supposed to travel to the US with his wife Maha and three children, Seif, 3, and twins Hussam and Duha (names have been changed), 7 months. Now the prospects of moving out of the apartment he shares in Zarqa governorate with his father, mother, sister, and brother have all but disappeared. The family fled from Syria’s Deraa governorate in 2012, seeking safety in Jordan. They stayed in Za’atari refugee camp for 40 days before moving to the town of Zarqa where they felt living conditions were better. Today, Firas and his family share one bedroom, his mother, father and sister the other bedroom, while his brother sleeps in the living room. They pay 135 JOD ($190) monthly rent.

“Jordan means a lot to me. I got married and had my children here. But Jordan is a poor country and I am looking for a better future for my family,” said Feras. Though he is a lawyer by training, he couldn’t practice in Jordan as Syrian refugees cannot work in certain fields such as law and medicine. Instead, he had to make ends meet by working occasionally as a barber. Feras and his family receive five monthly vouchers of 10 JOD each ($14) to buy food. In order to keep the family warm during the bitter cold of winter, Oxfam was able to provide a winterization kit including a gas heater and gas voucher. Oxfam has also supported Feras and his family by rehabilitating part of their home. Feras had recently stopped working, while preparing to travel to the US. As a father he spoke of his worries finding a new job, and securing his children’s education once they reach school age.

Feras reflected on the tourists from around the world including America, who would visit his hometown of Bosra al-Sham in Syria, which boasted a major archeological attraction. “We always treated them well, and their photos on social media from their visits to our town are evidence of how we lived in peace.”

Feras and his wife were planning on joining their extended family, his sister, and his wife’s family who were resettled in the US a few months ago. He told Oxfam that one of his future plans was to continue his education in International Law, “in order to protect human rights”. 

Despite his setback, his father, mother, sister and brother will be resettled this month in Austria, where the siblings plan on obtaining their university degrees.

The young man refuses to lose hope. “When one door is closed, another opens,” he said. He hopes to get resettled in another country which could welcome him and his family.

Tell President Trump: we cannot slam the door on vulnerable refugees in their hour of need. 

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