- Associated Press - Thursday, November 3, 2016

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Mostafa Hassoun thought he would never be able to begin living.

Forced to leave his village outside the Syrian city of Latakia at 18 years old, the young man’s life was put on hold at the time when most Americans’ start.

As a refugee in neighboring Turkey, Hassoun lacked the ability to work legally, pursue an education or obtain citizenship.

“You’re waiting - waiting for what?” Hassoun, now 24, asked. “Where is my future? When can I start? I cannot.”

It was this stagnation that prompted Hassoun to apply for refugee status in 2014, a process he said took 15 months. U.N. and U.S. officials asked the Syrian questions about his beliefs, his past, his family and friends - “everything, every, every, every thing, about my life,” Hassoun said.

But the wait was worth it when Hassoun found out he would be resettled in the United States. Though the move meant separating from his parents and four siblings, it also indicated a chance at the life he had waited half a decade to begin.

“I was so happy,” Hassoun said. “Here, you have identification, you are in the system, you are legal. You can do what you want to do.”

Maryland has welcomed 466 Syrian refugees as of Nov. 3, according to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Database. Of these, 422 of these arrived in 2016.

Originally resettled in Severna Park, Maryland, in June 2015, Hassoun moved to Annapolis, Maryland, in August 2015.

He’s juggling two jobs and classes at the local community college, along with keeping in touch with his family and friends abroad and meeting other Syrian refugees in the area. Sharing a Main Street apartment with roommates, he supports himself on income from an ice cream shop and a salon.

However, he still finds time to keep up with the election. Hassoun has closely followed the presidential campaign, during which refugees have dominated the candidates’ rhetoric more than any other in history.

Though Hassoun says he “loves to read about politics,” he doesn’t care who’s going to win. Republican candidate Donald Trump has openly disparaged Syrian refugees, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is unlikely to intervene in his war-torn home, Hassoun said.

“These are two bad options for Syria,” Hassoun said. “If Trump wins, all the Syrian people die. If Hillary wins - nothing.”

For the majority of his campaign, Trump has labeled Syrian refugees as terrorism risks. Comparing them repeatedly to “a Trojan horse,” the candidate has said he would like to “build a safe zone in Syria, build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is, so they can live.”

Trump has also openly praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, lauding the leader’s performance and advocating a closer relationship between the two nations. This despite Russia’s backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, responsible for much of the violence in Syria and whom the U.S. opposes.

The government-rebel fighting in Syria is reaching new heights, with more than 400,000 lives lost and 12 million citizens displaced, according to the United Nations.

As of Nov. 3, 15,994 Syrians had been resettled across America, according to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Database. Of those, 13,305 were resettled in 2016 alone.

However, Hassoun says he doesn’t care what Trump - or anyone in the Republican party - says.

“He can say what he wants,” Hassoun said. “It’s not my choice to come here. It is not my choice to leave my home.”

Hassoun hasn’t seen his immediate family, spread between Sweden and Turkey, in over a year. It will be five more years until he can obtain a passport and go visit, he said.

Though he talks to his mom by phone almost every day, he can’t tell her how long it will be until they will be together. Instead, he says it will be only a month or so; if she knew the truth, she would be crushed, he said.

Recently, Trump’s son Donald Jr. went as far as to compare Syrian refugees to a bowl of poisoned Skittles on Twitter. The metaphor sparked immediate backlash and prompted a representative for Wrigley to issue a statement saying: “Skittles are candy, refugees are people.”

Were he to return to Syria, he would be killed immediately, Hassoun said.

“Mine is the most dangerous country in the world right now,” Hassoun said. “It’s hell.”

“If Trump wins, I will go back home. And of course I will die.”

But a Clinton presidency isn’t any more appealing, Hassoun said. If the Democratic candidate takes office, she will likely approach the conflict from the same angle as her predecessor, a stance Hassoun says isn’t involved enough.

The U.S. government has condemned Assad for committing large-scale atrocities and emphasized the importance of pursuing a future without him. However, the Obama administration has placed its priority on reaching a negotiated settlement and shaping a transitional administration, rather than military intervention.

Clinton has called for providing moderate opposition fighters more support and removing Assad from power using diplomatic means, but has not made clear how her administration would achieve that. Though she has historically disagreed with the Obama administration’s policy, she has shirked from publicly advocating a tougher approach.

“If Hillary wins, it won’t be different,” Hassoun said. “It’s the same government. I don’t think anything will happen.”

The U.S. has been participating in airstrikes against the Islamic State and other jihadist groups in Syria as part of an international coalition since September 2014. However, it has avoided any attack that would place it between anti-government rebels and the government.

“There’s no life in my country, and America doesn’t do anything,” Hassoun said. “There’s a lot of people dying. And Obama doesn’t do anything.”

One of Hassoun’s closest friends still resides in Aleppo, the Syrian city enveloped in fighting between rebels and the Russian and Syrian governments. On Wednesday, Russia announced it would extend a ceasefire over the area until Friday to give rebels a chance to leave the city and “avoid senseless victims.”

“He doesn’t know what’s going on,” said Hassoun, who said he talks to his friend by phone when he can. “He’s waiting for nothing.”

Though Hassoun used to identify as Muslim, he now identifies as atheist. He abandoned his religion in the face of the violence in Syria and the lack of intervention on behalf of the rest of the world, either through military action or in accepting refugees.

“There’s nothing happening (with outside intervention),” Hassoun said. “If you cannot support those people, you must help them move or find a new life.”

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