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Dying of cancer, Syrian fears travel ban will keep family from his side

Morhaf Al Achkar in Chicago, 2012.

Morhaf Al Achkar in Chicago, 2012.

Morhaf Al Achkar has cancer, perhaps less than a year to live, and he fears he may never see some of his family again now that President Donald Trump has suspended entry to the United States by refugees from Syria.

Just before Thanksgiving, Al Achkar, a 33-year-old family doctor at Indiana University, was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer.

"Patients in my situation are given four to 10 months to live," said Al Achkar, who lived in Orlando before moving to Indiana and often visited friends in Tampa. "I feel anyone in my situation should have the loving care of his family. Now I find myself struggling and I cannot get support from the people I need by my side."

Al Achkar is a United States citizen who moved here from Syria as an immigrant in 2006 at a time when his country was still "livable," he said during a phone interview.

His brother, sister-in-law and their three kids, however, didn't leave Syria until war broke out. They fled to England as refugees. Their status there means they may not be able to come to the United States as long as the ban is in place.

Al Achkar's Syrian-born stepmother, who lives in Maryland and is a permanent resident as a green card holder, is visiting Saudi Arabia and fears she cannot return home.

Trump's executive order allows for discretion on the part of U.S. immigration officials but there's no guarantee his family can come visit the dying man.

More important to Al Achkar is what becomes of his family and friends still in Syria. Even if he survives the cancer, he fears he may never see them again — either because the ban may become permanent or because they may not survive the violence.

"Just as I did not bring cancer to myself — I have never smoked — my cancer is not related to anything I have done in my life," Al Achkar said. "This is similar to the civilians in Syria who, not because of anything they have done, are the innocent victims of the war and the hatred of the world."

On Sunday, he took to Facebookwith an essay describing his situation. Here is an excerpt:

"My suffering is not even close to that of the refugees who have faced death and the questions about the meaning of their suffering, and the longing to be just normal. ... Yes we can do something for them and yes we should. We can open our country for them."

Contact Paul Guzzo at or (813) 226-3394. Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

Dying of cancer, Syrian fears travel ban will keep family from his side 01/30/17 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 31, 2017 7:54am]
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