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World

Seeking Asylum, A Syrian Woman Struggles To Get Family Out

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Why do so many people brave rough seas and small boats to try to land in Europe? For Syrians, daily life has become dangerous and unlivable. One in five Syrians have fled the country, but most can't and must try to survive in places where violence and starvation have become as common as sunrise and nightfall. Mais Istanbelli is a journalist for Syria Deeply, a website that tries to cover the conflict. She grew up in Aleppo, but lives now in Sweden, where she's seeking asylum, but most of her family remains in Aleppo. Mais Istanbelli joins us now. Thanks so much for being with us.

MAIS ISTANBELLI: Thank you for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Your mother, father, two younger sisters live in Aleppo. Just tell us what they say life is like there now.

ISTANBELLI: They simply say it's bad. They don't have water for the last 15 days. They don't have electricity. It's not safe. They hear the sounds of bombing, like, all the time. My family lives in a regime-controlled area, where it's supposed to be safer than other places, but it's bad.

SIMON: Can you talk to them regularly?

ISTANBELLI: Yes, not on the phone. We speak every day on WhatsApp. Like, we chat. They have little access to Internet - to like slow Internet. I just make sure they're OK - they're doing well. I could speak to them yesterday on the phone. I could hear the sounds of bombings around them in the clashes. Regime-controlled areas are not bombed by the regime, but they're still targeted by opposition groups. And the regime is firing its rockets from a very near place to my family's house, so they hear it all the time. And every time the regime shots a rocket or a bomb to, like, on another area, the whole building shakes.

SIMON: Are your parents working? Is there any income?

ISTANBELLI: My father - my father is still working. He's an engineer. He's still trying to, like, do some work with the Syrian government. I mean, we don't agree on political opinions. He's still pro the regime. He still believes that things could be better with Bashar al-Assad controlling the country, so he held his position with the government. And he still goes to his work. My mom is a housewife. When she wants to go visit her family or her friends, she can't go alone because it's not safe for her. Imagine, my mom is, like, 50 years old. She can't go alone on the streets by herself. She calls her brother to come pick her up. No safety, like, zero safety on the streets.

SIMON: And I recognize you have to be careful answering this, but I've got to ask it anyway. Can you tell us if your family is interested in leaving?

ISTANBELLI: They are. They tried. They applied several times to get a visa. They applied at the American Embassy in Beirut - twice. They were rejected. And they applied at the Italian Embassy last month and they were rejected as well. So, yeah, they are planning and they want to leave. They're trying to find a legal way to leave the country and not be forced to go, but their life's in danger in order to make it to a safe place

SIMON: But daily life has become unbearable.

ISTANBELLI: Absolutely. I mean, there is no life. They - I think now about my younger sisters. They're 15 and 16. There is no way they can do any activity in life. There is no way they can develop anything. It's unlivable.

SIMON: Mais Istanbelli is a journalist for the news site Syria Deeply, speaking with us from Sweden. Thanks so much for being with us.

ISTANBELLI: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.