Angela and Leen Albaka have dreamed of America since they were little girls. Daughters of a liberal-minded couple in Damascus, they spent their summers learning English and imagined attending college in the United States. Angela planned to be an engineer. Leen, five years her junior, had already fashioned herself into an American preteen, skateboarding, playing electric guitar, speaking with a flawless accent, and using Millennial slang. Then, like millions of Syrians, the civil war turned them into refugees, and their family ended up in a cramped apartment in Istanbul. Their next move was obvious: They went to a United Nations office and applied for resettlement, hoping to be selected by the U.S.
This set them on a Kafka-esque saga that is reflective of America’s long-running failure to address the conflict in Syria—which enters its 10th year today—and the migrant crisis it’s fueling. After waiting for years during the Obama administration, the family’s application was accepted by the U.S. just before Donald Trump all but halted its efforts to resettle Syrians, and they’ve been trapped in limbo since. The sisters stand out for how they’ve refused to give up on their idealized vision of America as the years pass, relentlessly trying to get their case heard, even attempting to reach U.S. presidents and celebrities. They’re also a reminder that even as a war that has killed hundreds of thousands recedes from the minds of most Americans, millions of Syrians are still dealing with the fallout from the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe. In just the last month, new fighting in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province has sent 1 million people fleeing and reignited the migrant crisis in Turkey and Europe.