These were originally published in Women Under Siege
By Priyali Sur/Contributor — August 4, 2016
Samos, Greece—“My friend, my friend!” Two little Syrian girls come running toward me as they see the camera around my neck. These two words are part of their limited English vocabulary, a language they are being taught in school at the Vathi refugee center—known as a “hot spot”—on the island of Samos in Greece. The center is 2 to 3 miles inland from the children’s park in the town square but every evening they walk that hilly distance, eager to ride the swings and merry-go-rounds, singing Arabic songs and dreaming about a new life in a new place.
The simple connections that matter most in the EU’s ongoing refugee nightmare
By Priyali Sur/Contributor — October 14, 2015
In a swirl of humanity punctuated by police geared with batons, riot gear, and even machine guns, a sense of solace can be hard to find. But for many of the refugees I met at the Hungarian border with Serbia and Croatia, they sought to locate that saving grace in their families, who were both a source of anxiety on this unending journey, and also their succor.
A Syrian woman at Tovarnik told me it’s the peaceful face of her child that keeps her going. Restless wives focused their energy on avidly searching for their husbands in crowds of men being pushed back by police, as authorities prioritize placing women and children on buses and trains. A father waited his turn on a long line to get a blanket to keep his children warm. I remember a father in Horgos, in Serbia but at the Hungarian border, very worried that his little boy had torn his left foot shoe and that it was his only pair. “I’d give him my shoes but he has such tiny feet. How will he cover the rest of the long journey without shoes?” he asked.
As the influx of refugees fleeing wars in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa continues to rise in Europe, a comprehension that these are individual lives in danger can be easily lost in media coverage and political discourse. With an estimated 533,591 refugees and migrants having entered Europe by sea in the past nine months, according to the International Organization for Migration, more than half a million individual stories have been added to the ever-increasing pile of human lives vying for attention and relief.
Yet each person’s story is everything to them, the connections to loved ones the most honest thing in an Orwellian struggle for their very futures.
During a day at the end of September on the Hungary-Croatia border, I met many Syrian women and families in the crowd. One in particular stood out as I watched an act of primal human kindness play out in front of strangers’ eyes.
I saw Faiza in a white hijab lying on wet grass in a field near some railway tracks in Tovarnik, at the Croatian-Serbian border. In the background hummed the commotion of police barricading off migrants who wanted to board Croatian buses bound for Hungary. It was drizzling and she looked cold and ill as refugees, cops, journalists, and aid workers moved dizzyingly all around her. Just as I started making my way over, a 10-year-old-boy came running, and, removing his poncho, covered her with it. Lovingly and gently he ran his tiny hands along her forehead. The boy, Ahmed, was Faiza’s youngest son.
Faiza’s oldest son had been killed in Syria at the age of 21. After that, she said, she decided to leave Damascus with Ahmed and her other two older children (ages 18 and 19). The day I met her, as she lay exhausted in the grass, her older children remained temporarily caught on the other side of a barricade. Without his siblings next to him, Ahmed, 10, took care of his mother like an adult. His only true concerns were how to keep his mother warm and how to bring his siblings to his side. He wasn’t bothered about which country they will ultimately land in, which school he will go to, or what he will grow up to be. It was the moment that was important to him—it was his family that mattered above all.
It is Ahmed’s story and a million others like his that once again reveal the strength of the human spirit as so many struggle through one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time.