Photo by Ben White/ CAFOD / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

SYRIA: We Cannot Let Refugees Fall into the Void

By Nisan Ahmado

Nisan Ahmado never imagined she'd become part of a massive migration fleeing conflict in her homeland of Syria. As divisions mount over a growing refugee crisis, Nisan appeals for empathy and unity.

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Hummingbird | Syrian Arab Republic

Almost three months ago, the world was horrified by a picture of Syrian Kurdish 3-year-old Alan Kurdi. The child and his older brother drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when their family was trying to reach a better place after their home in Kobani, Syria was stormed by ISIS.

The image that emerged on media—Alan’s lifeless, small body lying peacefully on the sand—started an international movement. There is a growing awareness of the refugees pouring into Europe and, in fewer numbers, into other parts of the world. But the story of Alan is only one among thousands of stories that pass unnoticed.

I am a Syrian woman living outside of Syria, and my family’s story is among these.

Two years ago, my brother set off on the same treacherous route that Alan Kurdi’s family took.

No Syrian wanted to leave home. We thought that we would build a better country for ourselves. We wanted to stay here in our homes and regain some of our rights. For five years we called for no-fly zones to protect towns and establish safe shelters for refugees. Many times we called for humanitarian corridors, but our voices were ignored.

Over and over again, we said that all of this destruction would create a void, and inside the nothingness, extremists, killers, and thugs would lurk and consume people’s hope. After years of war, desperation drove thousands of us to search for alternative ways to live peacefully and preserve what is left of our dignity. Despair has crawled deep into our spirits.

When my brother decided to take the journey of death, we didn’t try to persuade him to stay. The choice is either taking the risk in the sea or engaging in a bloody war. My brother climbed into a rubber boat with dozens of men, women, and children.

On the way from Turkey to Greece, the boat’s engine died in the middle of the sea. The young men in the boat used their hands and feet to paddle back to the Turkish shores. There, they fixed the boat and tried again.

By dawn, they reached a Greek island, where a group of monks offered help. A Greek female doctor welcomed my brother and his friends in her own house. Others helped him on his way to Sweden, where he is trying his best today to show that he is a good Samaritan. Such actions of altruism towards many refugees in their long journeys manifest the essence of humanity. We are grateful for the humans in Europe and around the world who cried for us, those who welcomed us in their homes, those who greeted us in bus and train stations, those who shared the journey with us, bringing aid and water. These actions revealed to us what the future of humanity could look like, a future we wish to witness one day.

Inclusion and empathy is the only response to fight fear.

The current reality is that there are over 4.2 million Syrian registered refugees worldwide, according to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR). There are 2.1 million refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, and 1.9 million in Turkey. About 26,700 refugees are registered in North Africa. Between 2011 and Oct 2015, the number of Syrian asylum applications in Europe reached 681,713—distributed mainly between Germany, Sweden, Serbia, Kosovo, Hungary, Austria, Netherlands and Bulgaria. These numbers don’t include displaced people within Syria. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates the number of total displaced Syrians as about 10.8 million of the country’s 22 million population. These numbers were registered in mid-2014, which means now that the majority of the Syrian population is fleeing for their lives—not to mention the thousands killed, disappeared, and arrested.

After waiting for so long, and as the world started to forget what Syrians are going through, people decided to take matters into our hands and seek for ourselves our rights to have normal, safe, and decent lives, similar to millions of people around the world. Syrians marched; we found a way.

Every day, rubber boats carry dozens like my brother and little Alan Kurdi, in a life-threatening journey in the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey’s shores to Greece’s Islands. Many used their life savings to take a one-way ticket toward either a new life or toward death. They packed the remnants of their past and set off for the unknown.

Refugees are searching for a life. It is not easy to replace all that one has ever known. It is not easy to start over again, to try to heal and forget. This needs courage, and cannot be done without compassion.

Preventing the people from seeking our right to a stable life is not an answer to stop the madness. On the contrary, keeping refugees in the nothingness will make us lose faith in a sympathetic and human world. Keeping people in limbo does not solve any issue; shutting us out behind TV screens will shatter all of the promises of a better world. Inclusion and empathy is the only response to fight fear. People are living under terrorism every day in Syria, trying to survive and find a meaning for why all this is happening to us.

Placing the blame of criminal actions committed by the few terrorists on the shoulders of the victims will only empower the criminals. Doubting the just cause of refugees will make those carrying hatred smile in their shameful victory. Instead of pushing refugees back to where we will be used, exploited and killed, we must be welcomed. We must be shown that there is a way to practice our humanity and be worthy to have an equal opportunity to live in our global community.

The way this world deals with refugees in crisis is not specific to Syrians. It sends a message about the world’s current stand on human rights. Our war today is not a war of religions, races and nations. Our war in this age is to preserve the human values and principles many men and women fought for through history.

What is left for us Syrians right now is to fight the void, where nothing grows but hatred and insanity. Criminals continue to kill and spread grudges mercilessly and tirelessly all around the world. What you can do now is help the rest of us. We need to fight this void with empathy; we need to preserve the values of democracy, liberty, equality, and dignity. Light a candle in your heart so we can all pass into a better humanity.

Topic Human Rights
Comment on this Editorial


Hi Nisan,

Thank you for sharing your story and giving your personal perspective about your family's experience as refugees.  It's really refreshing to read this article and see that the only way we can support refugees is through compassion and courage.  I am first generation Tibetan American but my family were refugees forced to flee their country as well, so your story personally connected with me as well.  Anyways I wanted to say thank you for sharing your story and educating others in the community about Syria's current crisis.