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Returning To Syria For Love: Why A Refugee Plans To Leave The U.S.


The civil war in Syria has forced 12 million people to find new homes. A tiny fraction of them have come to the United States, fewer than 2,000 people. Our colleague, Ari Shapiro, was in Toledo, Ohio, last week where he met one of the lucky ones.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: He is a 26-year-old waiter at a restaurant and hookah bar called "Rockets" in Toledo's university district.

ZEINE ASSAD: My name is Zeine Assad. I've been here for three years.

SHAPIRO: He crossed the border into the U.S. from Canada. After a short stay in an immigration detention center, he was allowed to stay here, but there's something pulling him back to Syria.

ASSAD: I'm kind of engaged to a girl that I love from like four years.

SHAPIRO: His fiancee, Hala, is still in Syria. She is one of the millions of Syrians who want to come to the U.S. but cannot. She would have to leave Syria for a refugee camp, get a referral from the U.N., and then the process can take up to two years. So she waits in the city of Latakia on Syria's coast near the border with Turkey. It's away from the worst of the fighting.

ASSAD: It's not safe. I'm not going to say safe 'cause Syria in general, it's not safe anymore. You know, you don't know when you're going to die to be honest with you because of all of the mortars.

SHAPIRO: I imagine you have this very suburban American life.

ASSAD: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: And you - I don't know - Skype, FaceTime, WhatsApp with your fiance who is in the middle of a war.

ASSAD: Yeah. And I can't do anything to be honest with you. Like, I tried. Trust me, I tried so hard to make her come here.

SHAPIRO: What do you think will happen? Do think you will ever be able to be married and have a life together?

ASSAD: Well, I'm kind of afraid to say that, but at the end, I'm just going to, like - to be honest with you, I'm going to go back, like.

SHAPIRO: You are one of the lucky few.

ASSAD: I know. I know that, and even - we discussed about me and my family because they're like, you can't go back. It's not safe for you. And it is not safe for me, like, to be honest with you. But, like, I love this girl from all of my heart, you know what I mean. I can't imagine my life without her to be honest with you, so...

SHAPIRO: So while millions of Syrians are struggling to get to the United States, you, who have arrived here, are willing to say I will give it up for my love, and I will go back to this war.

ASSAD: Yeah, actually yes. I, like - we've been talking about this for the past months - my brother, I, all my friends - they're like you are crazy to go back. But, you know, I can't do anything. I can't even go to sleep. Whenever I talk to her, she's like when are you coming back? How can I get to you? There's no way. It's like a dream, you know what I mean?

SHAPIRO: What future do you imagine for the two of you in Syria?

ASSAD: Oh, my God. That's a really, really hard question. I can't even answer that.

SHAPIRO: That's Zeine Assad. We spoke to him at the restaurant where he's a waiter in Toledo, Ohio. All next week, we'll hear from Syrian families who have arrived in the United States just recently, settling into their new lives while following the war back home.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It's not easy to watch on TV and see your own people getting slaughtered.

SHAPIRO: We'll meet the people who are getting them oriented in the United States and we'll ask a State Department official handling refugee issues why the numbers in the U.S. are still so small. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.