COLUMBUS, Ohio – Zaher Alwattar is giving up on the U.S. government. America Tonight first met the Syrian-American handyman two years ago, tending to his garden in between daily calls to the U.S. State Department, asking for help in getting his siblings out of Syria to the United States.
Alwattar’s pleas went unanswered and he eventually gave up on bringing his family to the U.S. As the situation worsened and their options became even more limited, he says his sister and her family became desperate to leave. Last year, Alwattar says his sister became one of the thousands to die crossing the Mediterranean Sea. He says she was making the dangerous journey with her two kids, hoping to eventually reach Sweden.
Iyad Azrak, another Syrian American living in central Ohio, is familiar with that struggle. His parents live in Aleppo, where, he says, they sometimes go days without water or electricity. He’s working to help them immigrate to the U.S., a process that can take years.
Azrak came to the U.S. in 2001 for medical school and now works as an ophthalmologist near Columbus. Twice a year, he travels back to Syria to provide medical assistance, most recently in July.
“It's much worse than what we see on TV and in the media,” he said. “Living it is worse.”
For Syrians without relatives in America, their best hope of coming to the U.S. is to gain asylum – and the odds are slim. Even though the Obama administration has given more than $4 billion to humanitarian efforts in Syria, only 1,500 Syrian refugees have been granted entry to the U.S. since the civil war began.