Razan Ibraheem had no idea that when she packed up her life to move to Europe in the summer of 2011 it would be the last time she would see her home. He only intended to stay for a year to obtain his master’s degree in English language teaching. However, what happened in these 12 months made it impossible to return.
Five months before his departure, in March 2011, pro-democracy demonstrations had started in Daraa, a city in southern Syria now widely known as the birthplace of the revolution against President Bashar Assad.
The protesters had been inspired by similar uprisings against other oppressive rulers in the Middle East, which eventually saw governments overthrown in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. In Syria, however, Assad responded with a brutal crackdown on those who spoke. This only fueled anger further, sparking protests across the country and as the protests grew louder, so did the government’s response. The country was soon embroiled in an all-out civil war.
“I never thought I would be here ten years later,” Razan said while speaking to Euronews last week from his home in Dublin. “When I came to Ireland, I never thought I would come to stay. Never in my life did I think the violence would escalate and turn into a war.
“When I left, I thought I would stay a year and come home. I had a plan to open my own business, a language school in Syria, but all my dreams fell apart and were destroyed.”
Razan’s situation is not unique. In a conflict in which more than 400,000 people have died, millions more have been displaced.
According to the United Nations, there are 6.6 million people displaced within Syria itself; 5.6 million people have fled as refugees. Many have escaped to neighboring Jordan and Lebanon, while others, like Razan, have worked to rebuild their lives in Europe.
Until now, Turkey has received more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, which is the highest number in Europe and the world. Germany, meanwhile, has received around 570,000; Sweden, 113,000; Austria, 51,000; the Netherlands, 31,000; Greece, 26,000; Denmark, 20,000.
Switzerland, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Armenia, Norway, Spain, the United Kingdom, Cyprus and Italy have received fewer than 20,000 Syrian refugees each.
Ahmed Barakat, who was an English student at the University of Aleppo when the conflict began, now lives in Turkey after initially staying to report on the protests. He told Euronews: “I decided that my part was to document these moments and share them with regional and international media, and on social media, to show how Syrians are peacefully demanding basic rights on the streets and how the regime and its security forces is it so”. responding to them with fire, detention and torture. “
Barakat said he tried to continue his work even as extremist groups like Al-Qaida and the Islamic State began to spring up across the country. But that’s when disaster struck.
“In February 2015, after almost four years and after many direct threats from extremist groups, I was wounded by Al-Qaida fighters while documenting one of their attacks in the liberated area (a sector of Aleppo that came under the control from the anti-government Free Syrian Army) and had to spend the most difficult months of my life in hospitals, hoping to recover.
“After eight months of suffering, I was able to take my first steps again in Turkey, where I came to the conclusion that it was no longer safe for me to go back and hold my camera again, since we (the Syrian people) were never in control. plus.”
Europe is home
Since then, both Razan and Ahmed have gone on to pave their respective successful lives in Europe, and both noted that they now call the continent home; although, they both noted that the journey to settle down was not an easy one.
“When I came to Ireland, I didn’t know anyone and I was alone,” said Razan, who has since become an Irish citizen and has spoken at the UN about the migration crisis, as well as being named Irish Tatler’s 2016. International Woman of the Year .
He also works as a journalist at a Dublin-based news agency, checking social media content that comes from Syria and other parts of the Middle East.
“It was difficult at first, difficult to integrate and understand society, and for society to understand me! It is a mutual thing.
“But I honestly feel like I belong here. I belong to Ireland. It is my homeland. […] This country gave me many opportunities and I took advantage of them. The society was inclusive in general.
“I managed to change my dreams with my new situation, new life and new country.”
For Ahmed, he began looking for work in late 2015 after recovering from injuries that led him to leave Syria for good. He said: “Leaving everything behind and all the dreams we hoped to make come true was a very difficult decision.
“I started working part-time with a French association to remotely manage a small project in northern Syria, which carried out creative and psychosocial activities with children in camps, kindergartens and schools.”
Ahmed now works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN migration agency, where he is helping vulnerable refugees in Turkey. This is in addition to other consulting work with international NGOs.
“I plan to eventually meet my wife in the UK,” Ahmed said, adding: “Europe is my home. Wherever I feel safe; do not threaten me for my political views; my basic rights are guaranteed; and my future children They wouldn’t have to go through the things I’ve been through, that would be a home for me. “
‘A woman told her children … one was gone’
Razan explained to Euronews that she feels haunted by the ongoing violence in Syria, which has led her to become a volunteer and an activist. He has repeatedly traveled to Greece to help refugees arriving by boat, having made a dangerous and often deadly journey across the Mediterranean Sea. Witnessing this, he said, marked a “turning point” in his life.
“I used to wake up every day at 2 or 3 in the morning and go down to the shore to wait for the refugees when they came ashore. We gave them food and blankets.
“But the shocking thing is that they arrive depressed and sad. They had seen so much death before their eyes.
“One of the saddest things I saw while volunteering in Kos was a woman who counted her children when she arrived. She counted her first, second, and third child, but her fourth was gone. There was nothing they could do.
“Another family had to bury their son while they reached the shore.”
Some of the people Razan met on that Greek promenade have contacted her to tell her that they started their lives safely in other countries like Germany, Sweden and Switzerland, but these stories, she added, are now increasingly rare. .
This is due to a 2016 containment agreement between the EU and Turkey that prevents refugees arriving in Greece from continuing their journey to Europe. As a result, thousands have been held in overcrowded camps with poor living conditions while they await their prosecution and deportation.
“At the UN, I spoke about these people and I spoke about how important it is for them to travel in safety and dignity,” Razan said.
“Although there are now 1 million refugees in Germany, Sweden and other countries, the scale of the humanitarian crisis remains enormous. What is happening right now in the refugee camps is something that goes beyond their beliefs.
“They live in appalling conditions. And this is on European soil. They are trapped. They cannot move. I know people who are still there, and they have been there for the last four years.”
Regarding the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 2.6 million people worldwide, Razan added: “The basic thing to protect yourself is washing your hands, but there is no water or soap in the camps. This is the requirement. basic and minimal to protect yourself. ” yourself from COVID-19, and people can’t.
“There is going to be another big crisis if we see more outbreaks in the refugee camps.”
What can we learn about the last decade of conflict?
“The world must know the failure of the international community,” Razan said. “The UN Security Council – is an example of how the community failed to stop the war and save what is left in Syria.
“It is a shame for the international community to leave people murdered, children and women murdered and raped. To leave a country with a deep civilization and a great history; to leave it like this: shattered, destroyed.
“The suffering is still there. The refugees are still there. The humiliation. Everything is still there.”
“They turned a blind eye to all this devastation in Syria.”
When asked if she could ever see herself returning to her homeland, Razan said: “I see myself going home if there is peace and that is the most important thing. I definitely see myself going home just to help out.
“Just to be able to create projects to help women and children. They are the real victims of the war.”
Ahmed shared a similar sentiment, but only after seeing what he found to be acceptable justice. “Not in the short term. Maybe in the very long term,” he said.
“Yes, in a case where the world decides that the current Syrian regime must be changed and that the criminals who committed the most horrible crimes of this century are held accountable and prosecuted for what they have done.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism