While our Catholic Relief Services delegation was at the hotel that serves as a rest area for the refugees, I met a man and his son who were waiting to see one of the doctors. The man’s name is Ahmad Fares. Telling his story is not easy or brief, so I hope you’ll take the time to read about him.
Before the war in Syria began Ahmad had a job as a civil engineer in the city of Aleppo. He also taught on a part-time basis at the University in Aleppo. Ahmad holds a masters degree in engineering and is fluent in three languages including English. He and his wife have three children a boy who is 12, a second son who is seven and a daughter who is five. Ahmad was at the clinic with the seven-year-old named Karam, who was not feeling well. Karam is fluent in both Arabic and English. According to Ahmad, his eldest son was an excellent student up until the time the schools closed in Aleppo three years ago. His younger children had not yet started school when the education system closed. Since that time, Ahmad and his wife have been doing the best they can to educate their children at home.
I asked Ahmad to tell me about the circumstances that led to them being refugees fleeing Syria. He told me that 18 months ago their home was destroyed in one of the attacks which have been raging around the city of Aleppo. He moved his family to another house and it was also destroyed in an attack. After moving to a third and then fourth house which were also destroyed they ended up in a small room on the outskirts of town. The area was not safe because it continually was the site of battles between the Assad regime and the rebels fighting against Assad. Almost 80% of their home city has been destroyed, and basic services like electricity and water are no longer available. He told me that society had collapsed and life is they knew it previously was gone.
Four weeks ago Ahmad and his wife made the difficult decision to flee their native country, leaving their extended relatives behind in order to save their children. In the past four weeks their family has traveled across Syria, paid to be smuggled across the border into Turkey, traveled by land to the Aegean Sea, and then the booked passage on a small boat to one of the Greek Islands. This travel by sea was the most dangerous and treacherous part of the journey so far. This is a common statement from most of the refugees. Since last Friday, almost 100 people have lost their lives, in one case a boat capsized and everyone drowned.
Ahmad and his family travel by bus from Athens to the northern border of Greece. After being interviewed and presenting their papers they boarded another bus and then continued their journey north through Macedonia to the border with Serbia. At the Serbian border they were interviewed, fingerprinted, and had their photographs taken. They again boarded the bus for Croatia. When I met Ahmad at the rest area he was 15 miles from the Croatian border.
Ahmad his family are refugees fleeing the war and destruction in Syria. I asked him who the Syrian people side with in this war. He replied that the average Syrian would not want ISIS to rule the country. He said that would be turning back the pages of history to a darker time. He also told me the average Syrian does not care whether Assad remains in power or the rebels take control of the country. He stated that the battle is for authority and power, but the average Syrian’s life would be the same no matter who was in power.
Ahmad said that he is like many other Syrians, he just wants his family to live in peace, his children to receive an education, and to continue his work as an engineer. He completely rejects the notion that countries receiving refugees will be in greater danger of terrorism. He said the Syrian people are peaceful and industrious, and the idea that Syrians would want to harm the countries that host them is irrational.
When I asked Ahmad if he would return to Syria with his family once the war is over he immediately replied, “Of course, who does not want to live in their native land with their friends and relatives.”
Ahmad and his family are now in Croatia. They are part of the long human river of refugees that now stretches from Syria to Germany. He hopes in a few years he can make the journey in the opposite direction. He hates what he’s being forced to be a refugee. As we said goodbye he told me, “A father has an obligation to protect his children and give them a future, that is not possible in Syria today, maybe someday it will be possible again.”
Ahmad and his family are not unusual, they are like so many of the refugees that we are seeing. They are just decent people doing their best to keep their families alive and together. The support they are receiving from Catholic Relief Services, the Balkan Centre for Migration, Caritas and the other humanitarian aid groups is making the journey just a little bit easier.