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Syrian immigrant to Spokane seeks asylum, stability for young son

This Syrian woman, who didn't want to be identified, poses for a picture at her home in Spokane on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
This Syrian woman, who didn't want to be identified, poses for a picture at her home in Spokane on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2018. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

She’d been to Spokane before as a child, for hip socket surgery, and her uncle already lived here. Her home, Lattakia, Syria’s fourth-largest city, had become a war zone.

“If you go out your house, you don’t know if you will come back or not,” she said. Government forces roamed the streets, arresting people and sometimes raping women.

She was pregnant, separated from her husband and didn’t want to raise a child in the middle of a war, so she used her medical visa to fly to California, where her son was born in 2015.

From there, she came to Spokane and started working part-time at the Salvation Army, learning the basics of being an office assistant. She’s filed for asylum, which would give her legal status and a path to a green card. Her interview was in October but she’s still waiting to hear back. It’s unclear how a ban on Syrian refugees announced Friday will affect her case.

She asked not to be named, fearing it might impact her pending asylum application or harm her relatives who are still in Syria. Some day, she’d like to go to school here and get a better job, maybe working as a dental assistant or in health care.

She’s bubbly and eager to talk to new people and practice her English.

“It’s so hard!” she said of her new language. Her son switches between English and Arabic at his day care, which she said makes her laugh.

She was living with her uncle, but recently moved to her own place: a two-bedroom apartment in northeast Spokane. She has a few rugs, clothes and some kitchen items, but still needs furniture and most of the basics for life on her own.

Her son was able to get Christmas presents through the Salvation Army. She smiles and laughs, talking about how happy he was to receive some colorful toys, which are among the few items scattered on the floor in her new apartment.

But her eyes cloud over when she talks about her home.

“Syria used to be a beautiful country,” she said. The streets were safe, people walked everywhere and she was able to go to school.

But the war has scattered her family. Half, she said, are dead. The rest are spread across many countries, some in Holland, some in other parts of Europe, some in the U.S. Because she doesn’t have legal status in the U.S. yet, she can’t travel to visit them.

World Relief resettled 64 Syrian refugees in Spokane last year, a jump from just two families in 2015. That number doesn’t count people like this woman, who came on their own and have applied for asylum.

“This is how Syrian people are now living. We don’t have home,” she said. She doesn’t like to talk about what she went through personally. Her focus now is on providing for her son, who’s now 18 months old.

“I’m trying as much as I can to be strong,” she said.


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