Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Journey of a Small Family – From the War in Syria to the Pope’s Plane | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Syrian men ride a motorcycle past destroyed buildings in the rebel-held village of Teir Maalah (AFP)

Hassan and Noor escaped from the suburbs of Damascus in December of last year with their son who is two years old. After a journey that lasted several months, the family moved to Rome at the invitation of Pope Francis. However, they yearn for the country which they left behind.

Noor, 30, with her baby at her side, tells Agence France-Presse “We did not support the Syrian regime, nor did we support the Islamists. We left Syria because my husband was called to join the army.”

Noor wanted to go to France with her husband but they were forced to cross Syria first to arrive in Turkey. They were held for a few days in the city of Raqqa by ISIS until a smuggler helped them to flee.

Noor, who remembers the Syrian and Russian air raids with horror said “If you are caught between Turkey and Greece, there is no problem because you will spend a few hours in jail. However, if you are arrested in Syria, you may be murdered.” Noor’s husband Hassan, 31, narrates how he was duped at a Turkish port by a smuggler who wanted the family to climb aboard a rubber boat in bad weather conditions. The boat had 62 people on it but was designed to carry 40 people.

However, the family managed to make the journey by sea to find themselves stuck in the middle of administrative procedures in Lesbos. The family arrived before the agreement to deport all illegal immigrants to Turkey was implemented and therefore they were not deported. However, the Greek island has become like a prison for them.

Hassan says that representatives of the Saint Egidio Catholic Association talked about the possibility of moving the family to Italy but did not mention the Pope or his plane. Noor says that “Even now I do not believe what happened. It is like a beautiful dream.” The Pope came to greet them on the plane and Noor adds “He stroked the head of our son Riadh”. Noor answers the questions of the journalist in a whisper in the courtyard of the school that is affiliated to the charity which received them in the neighborhood of Trastevere, Rome, where they are staying until their apartment in the Vatican is ready. Hassan emphasises the “kindness” of the inhabitants of Rome and pointed out that they want for nothing. However, he still thinks of his relatives who are still in Syria and adds “you can find a new place to live but you can’t find a new family”.