Living in limbo

By Oxfam & American Relief Coalition for Syria
On July 17, Oxfam participated in a lobby day in Washington, D.C., along with American Relief Coalition for Syria (ARCS), Syrian American Council, Americans for a Free Syria, and Citizens for a Secure and Safe America, to advocate for the renewal and re-designation of Syrian TPS Photo: American Relief Coalition for Syria

As the decision to renew Temporary Protected Status looms, Syrians on TPS share what it’s like to live in a constant state of uncertainty.

The Department of Homeland Security will announce its decision Thursday about whether to renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians living in the United States. There are currently 7,000 Syrians living under this designation, who could extend their status, which was created to protect people fleeing dangerous conditions in their home countries. An additional 7,000 Syrians in the US would be eligible to apply if TPS is re-designated.

Oxfam and its partners, including the American Relief Coalition for Syria, have been advocating for the renewal and re-designation of TPS for Syrians caught in limbo—people like Monzer, Nada, and Dr. Fadi. Their journeys vary widely but they share one experience: TPS offered them a lifeline when they had nowhere else to go. Here’s a brief glimpse into their lives and how TPS has impacted them.

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Photo: American Relief Coalition for Syria

Nada

Nada is an art educator, visual artist, and museum curator. She works with folklore societies, refugee communities, and museum associations around the country, using her art to tell stories, connect people, and heal trauma.

“Syrians are a beautiful mosaic,” she says. “We are a diverse group of people with different strengths, education levels, religions, and cultures. But with all of our differences, we all share the same desires: safety, health, and freedom.”

As the war broke out in Syria in 2011, Nada witnessed the quick deterioration of homes and lives around her. The idea of human suffering outside the walls of her home in Damascus kept the single mother of two up at night. She began working with a variety of non-governmental organizations and private entities to help feed thousands of Syrians who fled the war to live in refugee camps in Lebanon and Turkey.

In June 2013, Nada and her son and daughter visited her brother in San Diego. During their stay, news from home turned bleak. She learned from relatives that the Syrian government was looking for her; she was not welcome back in Syria because of her volunteer work.

They were stranded in the US—but not for long. Nada learned about Temporary Protected Status and quickly applied for her and her children. She was accepted, and soon after moved to Michigan.

There, Nada and other Syrians established the Syrian American Rescue Network (SARN), which helps Syrian refugees resettle. Through SARN, Nada has helped resettle about 2,000 Syrian refugees in Michigan and surrounding states.

After completing a master’s degree in museum studies at Syracuse University in 2018, Nada now incorporates her love for humanitarian work with her passion for art. Today, Nada and her children live in New York. Earlier this year, Nada helped launch the first-ever Palestinian Museum in Washington, D.C.

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Photo: American Relief Coalition for Syria

Dr. Fadi*

Dr. Fadi*, 34, is a leading endocrinologist in Florida who treats patients with hormonal disorders and diabetes. He has a waiting list three months’ long and has served more than 3,000 patients in the United States.

Fadi’s US journey started in 2011 when, after completing medical school in Damascus, he was accepted into a residency program in upstate New York. Four weeks into his program, he received news from back home that a revolution was starting.

“As good as it felt to hear Syrians were demanding their freedom, we all knew deep down that the response would be violent,” he says.

That winter, Fadi’s parents called to say that his hometown of Homs had become “a living hell.” They pleaded with him to stay in the United States.

After Fadi’s program ended and his J1 visa was about to expire, he applied for Temporary Protected Status. TPS bought him enough time to figure out what he would do next. He had the ability to work, drive, and live in the United States for four and a half years. TPS expires every 18 months; so far, he has had to apply three times.

“Some of the most difficult times I experienced in the US was when I waited for TPS,” he says. “Sometimes there is a gap of time between when your TPS expires and when it gets renewed. During that time, everything gets affected from your bank account to your work visa. I had to inform my patients, and they were so devastated and disheartened about my situation after telling them I might have to stop coming in to the clinic. They were all supportive and offered me financial support, a place to stay, and rides. It was a dark time. But that experience showed me why I love America and Americans.”

Eventually Fadi was awarded a green card, which has taken him out of TPS limbo. But he hasn’t stopped working on behalf of others.

“I will continue to voice my opinion, something I could not do in Syria,” he says. “I want to continue to advocate for Syrians, especially knowing that I have so many of my friends back there, still suffering unfathomable conditions.”

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Photo: American Relief Coalition for Syria

Monzer

Monzer came to the US six years ago as a teenager (read his full story here); now he’s a 23-year-old student at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics—well on his way to achieving his dream to become a dentist.

Unlike some students who spend their summers off, he is working hard for TPS’ renewal and resignation. He participates in the National TPS Alliance, where he advocates for fellow Syrians as well as people in other vulnerable communities around the world. Although it’s stressful and overwhelming not to know what the future holds, Monzer is motivated to continue to work on getting TPS extended.

The most stressful aspect about TPS, he says, is the unknown. He’s living on an 18-month basis—he can’t go back to Syria, and his family can’t come to the US. He wanted nothing more than to have his mother attend his college graduation last year, but that wasn’t possible.

Adjusting to the US hasn’t been easy, but he says his biggest source of satisfaction are the new friends he made while working on getting the H.R.6 (the American Dream and Promise Act) passed. He loved that he was able to work with such a diverse and committed group of people.

“Those people became like family to me,” he says. “I felt like I started to belong.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

These stories were originally published on the website of Oxfam's partner American Relief Coalition for Syria and have been edited for space and clarity.

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