Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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 pguzzo@tampabay.com 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]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Hurricane Maria's winds hit 175 mph as it aims at Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

    Hurricanes

    SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria barreled toward Puerto Rico on Tuesday night after wreaking widespread devastation on Dominica and leaving the small Caribbean island virtually incommunicado. …

    A boat lays on its side off the shore of Sainte-Anne on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, early Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017, after the passing of Hurricane Maria. [Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte | Associated Press]
  2. Hillsborough School Board approves 2017-18 budget

    K12

    TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School Board on Tuesday approved a budget of $2.83 billion for the 2017-18 school year.

    Photo illustration. [iStockphoto.com]
  3. All Eyes photo gallery: 7.1 magnitude quake kills at least 79, collapses buildings in Mexico

    World

    A magnitude 7.1 earthquake stunned central Mexico on Tuesday, killing at least 79 people as buildings collapsed in plumes of dust. Thousands fled into the streets in panic, and many stayed to help rescue those trapped. The quake came less than two weeks after another quake left 90 dead in the country's south, and it …

    Rescuers work on a collapsed building on Amsterdam Avenue in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City after a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck, Sept. 19, 2017. Dozens have been reported killed across the country, including 42 in the state of Morelos, close to the epicenter of the quake, and at least 20 buildings in Mexico City have collapsed. (Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times) XNYT169
  4. Rays video tribute to ex-manager Joe Maddon upon return with Cubs

    Blogs

    Here is the Rays video tribute to former manager Joe Maddon, who returned to the Trop for the first time on Tuesday with his Cubs team:

  5. After Irma disruption, Miami eager to face Toledo

    College

    LAKE BUENA VISTA — Like thousands of other evacuees, Miami defensive coordinator Manny Diaz headed north to escape Hurricane Irma with his family, two suitcases and the anxiety of not knowing what would happen to everything he left behind.

    Miami coach Mark Richt watches during a victory over B-CU in the Sept. 2 opener. The Hurricanes haven’t played since.