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Syrian refugee jumps for joy after finding asylum in Moldova

Telling the Human Story, 19 November 2012

© Dimitri Doru
Raghid Jened became a refugee when he was unable to return to his native Syria and is now working in Moldova as an ear, nose and throat doctor.

CHIŞINĂU, Moldova, November 19 (UNHCR) Syrian-born Raghid Jened is a success story for the integration of refugees: a doctor, a certified Arabic-Russian translator and a passionate skydiver, he doesn't see himself living anywhere else than Moldova.

Before coming to Chişinău 13 years ago to study, Jened knew little about Moldova. "I only heard that it is a small and safe country, where people are kind, just like in Syria," he said. "And now, after so much time living here, I can confirm that these things are true."

His first days in Chişinău were difficult, especially because he didn't know the language. At first he regretted his decision to study outside his homeland, but soon he started learning Russian and some Romanian and found new Moldovan friends who made him feel at home.

"I am lucky to have people by my side who care for me just as my parents do," Jened said. Moreover, he feels Chişinău is his home not only because he watched it grow and develop, but also because he now knows it better than his own town in Syria, Homs.

The Syrian uprising began in March 2011, just as Jened was completing his medical degree with a speciality in otolaryngology at one of Moldova's leading hospitals.

As the fighting across the country worsened, his home town of Homs was deeply affected. His parents are still there, he said, doing their best to survive, but because of the bombings and fighting they live with friends while his brother is now in hiding. Jened has not been able to speak to his parents in weeks as telephone lines only work intermittently. He hopes to be able to help his parents somehow although it seems very difficult to evacuate them for the time being, he said

Because of the ongoing conflict, Jened was unable to return to Syria. Instead he approached Moldova's Refugee Directorate to seek asylum as a refugee sur place and was granted complementary protection. At present there are 75 Syrians with protection in the Republic of Moldova, most having arrived over the last year.

Since obtaining protection, Jened has received legal and social support as well as financial aid and in-kind assistance from UNHCR and its implementing partners, for which he is very grateful.

But he is not helpless and has skills to contribute. With his local medical degree he found work as an ear, nose and throat doctor in Chişinău's main hospital, the Centre for Mother and Child Care. "I enjoy working with children and I plan to keep working with them," Jened said.

Apart from loving his work as a doctor, Jened is passionate about skydiving. "I started jumping in 2003, just out of curiosity, afterwards I couldn't stop," he said smiling broadly. He obtained a professional skydiving license in 2011 and jumps as often as the weather allows.

Recently, to demonstrate his appreciation for the support that UNHCR has provided, he took several UNHCR flags on one of his jumps to promote the UN refugee agency's work.

When asked about his future, Jened excitedly speaks about his hopes to eventually obtain Moldovan citizenship, his wish to obtain an advanced Doctor of Medicine degree, and his desire to help his parents and ultimately to start a family in Moldova, which, at least for the time being, is his home.

By Irina Ungureanu in Chişinău, Moldova

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Haunted by a sinking ship

Thamer and Thayer are two brothers from Syria who risked their lives in the hope of reaching Europe. The sea voyage was fraught with danger. But home had become a war zone.

Before the conflict, they led a simple life in a small, tight-knit community they describe as "serene". Syria offered them hope and a future. Then conflict broke out and they were among the millions forced to flee, eventually finding their way to Libya and making a desperate decision.

At a cost of US$ 2,000 each, they boarded a boat with over 200 others and set sail for Italy. They knew that capsizing was a very real possibility. But they hadn't expected bullets, fired by militiamen and puncturing their boat off the coast of Lampedusa.

As water licked their ankles, the brothers clung to one another in the chaos. "I saw my life flash before my eyes," recalls Thayer. "I saw my childhood. I saw people from when I was young. Things I thought I no longer remembered."

After ten terrifying hours, the boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea, throwing occupants overboard. Rescue, when it finally came, was too late for many.

Theirs was the second of two deadly shipwrecks off the coast of Lampedusa last October. Claiming hundreds of lives, the disasters sparked a debate on asylum policy in Europe, leading Italian authorities to launch the Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation. To date, it has saved more than 80,000 people in distress at sea.

Eight months on, having applied for asylum in a sleepy coastal town in western Sicily, Thamer and Thayer are waiting to restart their lives.

"We want to make our own lives and move on," they explain.

Haunted by a sinking ship

A Teenager in Exile

Like fathers and sons everywhere, Fewaz and Malak sometimes struggle to coexist. A new haircut and a sly cigarette are all it takes to raise tensions in the cramped apartment they currently call home. But, despite this, a powerful bond holds them together: refugees from Syria, they have been stranded for almost a year in an impoverished neighbourhood of Athens.

They fled their home with the rest of the family in the summer of 2012, after war threw their previously peaceful life into turmoil. From Turkey, they made several perilous attempts to enter Greece.

Thirteen-year-old Malak was the first to make it through the Evros border crossing. But Fewaz, his wife and their two other children were not so lucky at sea, spending their life savings on treacherous voyages on the Mediterranean only to be turned back by the Greek coastguard.

Finally, on their sixth attempt, the rest of the family crossed over at Evros. While his wife and two children travelled on to Germany, Fewaz headed to Athens to be reunited with Malak.

"When I finally saw my dad in Athens, I was so happy that words can't describe," says Malak. However, the teenager is haunted by the possibility of losing his father again. "I am afraid that if my dad is taken, what will I do without him?"

Until the family can be reunited, Malak and his father are determined to stick together. The boy is learning to get by in Greek. And Fewaz is starting to get used to his son's haircut.

A Teenager in Exile

Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story

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