Syrian activist finds asylum in United States

By Shannan Ferry, NY1
Last Updated: Wednesday, May 17, 2017, 11:59 AM EDT

Reporter Shannan Ferry spotlights a Syrian activist who has found safety in NYC as part of the Spectrum News special "Immigration in America.” Watch more on Spectrum News’ hour-long special at 7 p.m. with live town hall at 8 p.m. May 24 | 7 p.m. May 26 | 7 p.m. May 29.

Ahed Festuk, 30, remembers her upbringing in Aleppo, Syria, as quiet and calm. Her dad owned a restaurant, while her mom raised six children. That simple life took a dramatic turn in 2011, after the Arab Spring uprisings. Festuk began taking part in demonstrations against Syrian President Bashar-al-Assad.

"Our demonstration, we started really peacefully. We say free, free Syria, and we saw the Syrian army around us, and they shot immediately at people protesting against the Assad regime," she said.

Festuk was shot in the elbow during a demonstration. When her home was bombed, her family decided to leave Syria and find a safer place to live. Festuk chose to stay in Aleppo and continue her work as an activist. She also began volunteering at a nearby hospital. This hospital was later bombed and her best friend was killed. Festuk saw death and destruction around her every single day.

“It is really hard to lose your best of friend, your best relative in front you, you ask yourself 'Why? Why does all this happen?'” asked Festuk.

Life in Syria continued to get more dangerous, and Festuk wondered how much longer she could stay alive in her native country. She said her decision to move to the United States came after attending conferences in D.C. and New York, where she spoke about her activism. During this visit, Festuk said several humanitarian groups offered to help her apply for political asylum. Festuk now lives in Brooklyn, and wants to use her platform to let others know about the situation in Syria and her life there.

“The crazy thing, everything happened, and the whole world was seeing, but nobody did anything,” said Festuk.

Festuk is now taking English classes and eventually hopes to go to college and study human rights. Festuk enjoys her life in New York City, but still hopes to go back to Syria someday and continue her life there.

"I left everything behind me, amazing friends, and even after all this damage happened, it’s still an amazing country in my eyes. I miss everything; sometimes I feel I miss my memory," said Festuk.

She hopes Assad will be removed from power someday so she can return to the country she loves.