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Although world leaders have been quick to condemn attacks on Syrian civilians, many of those same nations have maintained a discriminatory and dangerous policy of keeping out Syrian refugees.
Yet, things can be done in a different, more human way. Oxfam is part of a program called ‘Humanitarian corridors’ that helped 1000 Syrians find refuge in Europe without having to risk their lives in perilous sea crossings or long and dangerous journeys over land.
And it is making a real difference.
Mohammed’s journey to Italy: a story of hopes and dreams
Mohammed lives with his wife, Safa, in a quiet street of the small Tuscan town of Torrenieri, in the province of Siena, Italy. “It's so nice to be in a quiet place,” he says, “to live serenely without fear and to be treated with respect.”
18 months ago, Mohammed and his brother Mouhib were living in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon in poor conditions - 8 people sharing a damp garage. They were also exploited as unskilled labor on a low wage that was not always paid.
“We did not choose to leave”
In 2011, the brothers had fled with their mother, Malak, from the rural Damascus suburb where they had grown up - carrying nothing except the documents and the clothes they wore. Still at the beginning of the Syrian crisis, they presumed they would spend a few months in the city itself until the clashes ended and would return home.
As the situation deteriorated, the two brothers decided to flee to Lebanon so they would not be forced to fight in the army. “We did not choose to leave, we were forced to do so,” recalls Mohammed with melancholy. “We would never have left Syria voluntarily. We would never have left our mother. It was a compulsory decision.”
Hope emerges on Facebook
However, Mohammed and Mouhib barely earned enough to survive and certainly did not have enough to send to their mother for her to come and live with them. In this era of social networks, Mouhid discovered the ‘Humanitarian corridors’ scheme through Facebook. “I wrote an email which my friend translated from Arabic to Italian. I sent it. And less than a week later, I received an answer.”
After several meetings, Mohammed, Mouhib and Safa were finally given permission to leave Lebanon with their mother, Malak, without facing a perilous trip across the central Mediterranean route - which has already seen more than 350 deaths this year.
A new life in Italy
Arriving in Italy, the Al Jarrah family received a warm Tuscan welcome. Here Oxfam is hosting and supporting them for the duration of their asylum process with healthcare, legal assistance, Italian language classes and the process of integration and starting a new life.
“Our neighbors are very kind,” says Mohammed, “Italy has all the facilities: every day I walk into the town center, to the supermarket, to the pharmacy, where I get to know people. Three times a week I attend an Italian course. Now I am looking for a job; I would love something creative.”
“We have lived two happinesses”
Safa recently gave birth to her little girl in a fully equipped hospital. “The day of delivery was very peaceful,” Safa grinned, “despite the distance from my home and my family. The doctors and nurses were very kind to me. The girl's name, Rivan, is the name of a very rare rose, but it also means green lawn, the color of hope.”
“Here in Italy we have lived two happinesses,” says Mohammed. “The first was to abandon Lebanon and that horrible life. The second has been to have our little girl, who was born in Italy thanks to Oxfam's help. I cannot even imagine how it would have been for her to have been born in Lebanon.”“What I dream about for my daughter's future is that she can one day know Syria, meet her relatives and see our homeland.” says Mohammed.
Syria will always be home
Mohammed's hopes and dreams are now for the future of his little girl, mixed with memories of home: “What I dream about for my daughter's future is that she can one day know Syria, meet her relatives and see our homeland. Our dream is also to return to Syria. Here we are now, but we want to go back: I hope that everything is one day the way it was before the war.”
Photos: Oxfam Italy
You can help
Over 7 years since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, less than three percent of the Syrian refugee population have been resettled in rich countries. Thousands of them are still stuck in Lebanon and elsewhere.
You can help them have a better life by supporting our work. And give them another future.