As the biggest refugee crisis of our times continues unabated, spurred on by the horrendous conflict in Syria, it is easy to miss the positive stories emerging on a daily basis. Here are just a few examples of Syrian refugees defying their circumstances and building a better world.
The Techies — Bureau-crazy
Navigating the bureaucratic maze that is Germany’s immigration system is a challenge even if you do speak the language, but for refugees it can seem impenetrable. Six such refugees — Munzer Khattab, Ghaith Zamrik, Omar Alshafai, Yazan Salmo, Mohamad Khattab and Ahmad Alarashi — decided to address this by creating the app Bureaucrazy. The app helps simplify the whole process, translating the forms, offering multiple choice options and even directing people to the appropriate council office! Thanks to much publicity and a crowd funding campaign the app is well on its way to completion, and will hugely simplify a complex process in a different country in a difficult language for those who sorely need a helping hand.
The Youtuber — Firas Alshater
After five years of dark and deeply depressing news coverage, comedy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we hear about Syria. But Firas Alshater, having fled Syria, is now one of the most popular youtubers in Germany, tickling the national funny bone and challenging people from across the political spectrum to engage with refugees. In his youtube series Zukar he talks about the experience of being a refugee in a foreign country and famously filmed himself in the middle of Berlin offering hugs to passers-by. Loud, brash and funny, Firas has most recently lent his comedy skills to the youtube series YouGeHa — which makes videos to counter xenophobia in Germany. If you’ve five minutes to spare this is well worth watching!
The Actor — Jay Abdo
When fleeing your war-torn home country, finding a new job in the same career is almost impossible, even for one of Syria’s most famous actors. Upon arriving in America Jay Abdo was unable to find acting work and instead started working in a florist, and then at Dominos as a pizza delivery man. Many twists of fate later, and after meeting a fellow Syrian working with Werner Herzog, Abdo has returned to his passion, acting opposite Tom Hanks and Nicole Kidman in recent Hollywood films Queen of the Desert and Hologram for the King.
The Campaigner — Mazoun Almellehan
In a refugee camp, everyone has faced huge struggles to escape a dire situation and can suffer trauma, shock, illness, fear of violence, the burden of grief and great concern for their loved ones. A rare few somehow find the energy to campaign to improve the lot of fellow refugees. Mazoun Almellehan is exactly that person. Fleeing Syria, Mazoun made it to refugee camps in Jordan where, not content with the situation, she took it upon herself to push for higher standards of education. In an environment where early marriages have tripled she demanded a change of attitude towards women — towards an understanding that it is not marriage, but education, that secures a girl’s future. In her door to door campaign Mazoun caught the attention of Malala — the educational campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner — who invited her to her Nobel ceremony in Sweden. Now in the UK, Mazoun continues to campaign for the education of Syrian children and recently penned an op-edwith Malala urging support.
The Swimmer — Yusra Mardini
From training in shelled swimming pools, to swimming towards Lesbos dragging a raft, to competing in the Olympics as part of Team Refugee, Yusra Mardini’s story could not be more inspiring and extraordinary. When announcing her role in the team she said:
“I want everyone to think refugees are normal people who had their homelands, and lost them not because they wanted to run away and be refugees, but because they have dreams in their lives and they had to go”.
Yusra has inspired the world with her performance at Rio as part of a team of refugees, formed and supported by the International Olympic Committee to send a message of hope to all refugees.