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UNHCR campaign ahead of World Refugee Day sheds light on people behind the numbers

Displaced Iraqi children sit inside a UNHCR tent at a temporary camp set up to shelter people fleeing violence in northern Iraq on June 17, in Aski kalak, 40 kms west of the Kurdish autonomous region's capital Arbil.

By Lina Giannarou

Jamal and Amira worked together at a bank in Damascus, Syria. They were young and their dream was just to be together for the rest of their lives. All that changed one day when Jamal was kidnapped on his way to work. Abductions are not rare in war-torn Syria. The two did not want to leave the city, but they were left with no other choice.

Jamal and Amira tried to reach Greece via the northern Evros border with the help of a people smuggler. The first time they were arrested and returned to Turkey. The second time they failed again. Moreover, Amira was injured during the journey. Jamal tried again, this time on his own. It was late December of 2013 when he crossed the border with another 14 Syrians. They were arrested and then released before being given a six-month reprieve from deportation.

Today Jamal is in a northern European country following a nightmarish five-day trip hidden inside a truck without food. While he waits for his asylum application to be processed, he thinks of his wife, who is still in Syria. “Every day, every minute I die of worry for Amira. The situation in Syria is only getting worse. If something happens to her, I don’t know what I will do.”

Statistics on migration flows to Europe say next to nothing about the individual stories. Jamal and Amira left their jobs at the bank to seek asylum in a foreign country. Hussein also had a normal life before the civil war in Syria broke out.

He was a student, living with his family, and had good times with his friends. He got a tattoo that said “I refuse to sink” and, traveling with another 12 Syrians, he managed to reach the Greek island of Kalymnos. Rima from Syria, Kousha from Iran and Muhammad from Iraq share similar stories. “We also left our life behind.”

The goal of the UNHCR campaign ahead of World Refugee Day on June 20 is to make known the personal stories of the refugees that comprise the statistics. The organization recently released videos starring well-known personalities from all over the world, including Afghan-born American novelist Khaled Hosseini, award-winning Chinese actress Yao Chen, German actress and former fashion model Diane Kruger, musician Juanes (Juan Esteban Aristizabal Vasquez) and local singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannidis, who talk about the disastrous impact of war on families and the refugees’ struggle for survival. The videos can be seen at stories.unhcr.org.

The UNHCR’s Greek office is taking part in the campaign with stories of refugees currently living in Greece and Cyprus, as well as accounts of people working with refugees (for more details, visit www.unhcr.gr/refugeestories). People can contribute their own stories and meet the organization’s call for solidarity, in honor of the millions of people around the world who are forced to flee their homes to escape war or persecution.

ekathimerini.com , Wednesday June 18, 2014 (20:40)  
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