Terminally-ill Syrian in Indiana reflects on Trump's immigration ban


  • Katherine Coplen

My name is Morhaf Al-Achkar.

I am a family doctor at Indiana University and work at Methodist hospital. I am also a professor at the School of Medicine. Over the past five years, I have trained many family medicine residents, taught hundreds of medical students and physician's assistant students. They are now caring for thousands of patients throughout the country.

I am a proud Syrian and came to the U.S. as an immigrant ten years ago. My sister — a neuroscientist and professor at the University of California — and her family are refugees. My brother, a professor in Syrian and now an engineer in the UK, and his three kids who are studying pure math, physics, and medicine are refugees in Europe.

My dad, a 72-year-old economics professor, also found refuge in Maryland after he lost all his fortune to the war in Syria. His wife is now trapped in Saudi Arabia — he may not be able to see her. She can't come and if he leaves he can't return.

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with metastatic lung cancer. My disease is so advanced that no treatment out there will cure me or even make me live longer. Patients in my situation are given 4 to 10 months to live.

I have metastatic cancer. I may not be here in few months and my family — because they are Syrians —can't come to visit me.

I can't speak on behalf of the Syrian refugees who have experienced the shelling and bombardments of their homes. My words cannot describe their unimaginable suffering. I can't look them in the eyes to try to understand their pain living with the loss of a mother, a father, a brother, or a sister, and facing imminent death every day — and now the hatred of the world. I can't see their side of the story. I can only look inside myself and try to imagine what they feel.

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.

I don't expect anyone of you to be able to help me. It is my destiny and cancer is my battle. Syrians refugees, however, have the right to expect of you and me way more. We can do something for them and yes we should. We can let them in just like what we wish ours to do to us if we become victims of brutality and had to wander looking for refuge. Refugees should be welcome.

The attack on refugees, immigrants, and Muslims is part of Trump's war on the most vulnerable among us. It is an attack on our values and on the moral and the beautiful within us.

Closing our borders and building the walls is part of a self-defeating mindset — "Let's put America first and who cares about the rest of the world." If we believe this then tomorrow someone will call, "Let's put our state first; we don't give a shit about others." Another would say, "Let's put our city first." Then, "Let's put our neighborhood first."

Then someone will say, "I am putting myself first, who cares about my patients, who cares about my residents, who cares about my students?" or, "I am putting myself first, who cares about my children!"

This is not, however, a moral position that we can face the world with. This is not the America that we want as home.

I have metastatic cancer and my family can't come to say goodbye.

Syrians are not numbers. Our suffering has names and has a face.


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