Starting again: one young man’s heart-breaking journey from Syria to Egypt


Starting again: one young man’s heart-breaking journey from Syria to Egypt

Thomas Reuters Foundation, 17 Dec 2015

Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As a result of the ongoing civil war in Syria, 300,000 Syrians now live in scattered urban locations across Egypt, facing cramped living conditions and poor access to primary health facilities. Omar is a community worker at a community centre that child rights organisation Plan International Egypt supports in Alexandria. Plan International Egypt is supporting displaced and migrant Syrians in three main areas: education, protection and cash programming.

In the dense urban cityscape of Montazah in Egypt’s Alexandria city, Omar*, 22, is preparing a playground for a football match. Setting up the goalposts, he runs excitedly from one end of the ground to the other. Omar is a refugee from Syria who works at a community centre supported by child rights organization Plan International. The football match he is preparing for will see two mixed teams of Egyptian and Syrian teens in a face-off. Omar blows the whistle, and the boys are ready to play.

Omar is one of many Syrian youth trying to cope with a new life in Egypt. It’s Omar’s third year in Alexandria and he, like many others, is worried about his family’s future.

“We have not given up on our hope of going back to our homes and rebuilding our lives again,” he tells me.
Forced to flee

Omar and his mother, younger sister and brother had to leave Syria when an armed confrontation between rebels and the government troops drew close to their town in the eastern suburb of Homs.

He studied commerce at a college and his younger siblings attended school. His father worked as a manager in an oil refinery, while the mother looked after the children.

“Someone from the mosque called over the loudspeaker for all the people in our neighbourhood to evacuate to safety. We were anxious for our father who was still at work at a site in the north. We had no contact with him at that time.”

Omar’s family had, luckily, found a pick-up truck that had offered to take them to Damascus.

“We had a choice to make: either wait and risk being killed or leave without our father whose mobile phone was off. Our mother took the hard decision of leaving.”

After a tumultuous road journey – braving check points and questioning – the family finally arrived in Damuscus.

“We had nowhere to go in Damuscus. Some of our acquaintances had already left for Egypt. We could contact them by email. They advised us to leave Syria and come to Egypt. Whatever money we could sort out at that time, we used to obtain tickets for us to travel to Egypt.”

Finding shelter

Once they reached Egypt, Omar’s family headed to Alexandria, where they were offered temporary accommodation by some friends. But after a month they had to look for their own shelter, still with no news of Omar’s father.

“From a life of comforts and a big house, we today live in a ramshackle two-room apartment. My mother has developed a heart illness. I work here at this community centre now, and whatever is paid to me goes to help our family survive,” adds Omar, who holds little hope of going back to college to complete his studies.

“I cannot afford that. Who will feed my mother and brother and sister? I feel good when I help children at this centre do these recreational activities. It makes me feel content when I see these children playing and smiling.”

It’s now been three years since Omar heard from his father and the future looks uncertain. With a lack of decent jobs in Egypt, many Syrians are taking the risky sea route to Europe. For now, Omar is content to stay where he is.

“It is like a penalty kick. You are never sure what is going to happen when people take the boats. It is always a 50-50 chance. And that is what Syrian youngsters seem to be doing when they ride a boat,” he adds