"If I return to my country, they will kill or arrest me. The United States saved my life."
Eritrea was a very dangerous place for Alexander. He was forced to fight against the Ethiopian army. At his family’s urging, he fled to Sudan, but without ID papers he was arrested and robbed. He escaped, crossing the Sahara to Libya. Alexander found work, but was again imprisoned, because he didn’t have ID papers. A friend paid for him to leave prison, and once more Alexander fled for his life. He lived in a refugee camp in Egypt for two years before he was able to come to the US as a refugee.
Alexander describes his life in the refugee camp.
“It was very hot, very hot. My home was covered by plastic sheet. A plastic sheet with the sun! When I remember those days… it was very bad.”
When asked what his life is like now, Alexander smiles.
“Wow! A heavy peace. I am in a free country. I live with my family peacefully. My heart is not nervous, now, when I see a police car.
“Now, with the help IICONN gives, I live a good life in the United States. I have all my papers. We have good food. My family has medical services; my daughter has no more disease. I have a good job."
“Today, I got a raise from $10 to $14! Everything is good."
When the Arab Spring spread to Syria, Omar was already in this country, studying for his master’s degree. He kept in close contact with his family, and always planned to return when he graduated.
“The uprising began in my hometown, Darra,” he says. “Fifteen kids, ages 7-12, were arrested, beaten and tortured for writing anti-government slogans on a wall. My aunt visited one of the boys, a ten-year old, who’d had his fingernails pulled off. She sent me photos of his badly beaten face.”
“I knew that I had to speak up,” Omar says. “The Syrian government was painting an untrue picture of what was happening, denying torture, pretending to the world that all was well. I knew different.”
Using social media, Omar and a group of like-minded young Syrians, inside and outside of the country, told the world what was really happening in their homeland. The movement grew, organizing protests, raising funds, and always using social media to spread the truth.
Omar learned that his mother had been arrested for trying to attend a rally. She was released unhurt, but was threatened by the police. “We know all your kids, we know your relatives, we know how to punish you,” officials told her. Two weeks later, his parents left Syria for the US. (They had already obtained visas). Everyone thought the government would fall, and they would be able to return home.
But that did not happen. Omar learned from friends in Syria that he was a wanted man. He began to receive threatening emails. His father, on a quick trip home to settle their affairs, was visited by the police. “Your son is a traitor,” they said. “We will get him.” Omar knew he would be risking his life to set foot in the Syria. He had relatives and friends who had been arrested, even assassinated.
But Omar’s student visa was expiring. He had nowhere to go. He searched online, reading everything he could about seeking asylum in the US, and other countries. He visited lawyers who told him, “It’s too long…too hard…too expensive….you have no proof. It’s unlikely you’ll be successful. Forget it. Marry an American girl.” But that wasn’t the route Omar wanted to take. “I knew I had a true story,” he says.
It was then that Omar met Alicia at IICONN. “She was immediately responsive,” he says. “I think she could see the fear in my eyes.” Alicia helped him write his story. She walked him through exactly what was needed to build an asylum case with affidavits. She helped him prepare for his interview.
“Alicia told me, ‘You will not be sent back to Syria.’ But she warned me that it would be a lengthy process. So I couldn’t believe it when I went for my second interview and the official said to me, ‘Congratulations!’ I’d been granted asylum.
“This was a day that I’ll never forget. I felt such a tremendous relief. I told Alicia, ‘You saved my life’. I don’t know what I would have done without IICONN.”