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refugees

Doaa's dangerous journey to Europe

Her fiancée died trying to cross the Mediterranean. Doaa herself was rescued, and she was holding two babys in her arm when help arrived. Melissa Fleming of the UNHCR wrote a book about it.

Anyone who meets her can only be impressed by the calm and gentle way that she tells her story. That’s how 15 journalists felt at the book presentation on Tuesday. Some of them even applauded at the end of the one-hour reading. This kind of behavior is unusual, given the professional distance that comes with the job, but in this case, it’s different. It does not seem unfitting.

Dooa’s true story, "A hope more powerful than the sea," is told in 282 pages and has been written by Melissa Fleming, the chief spokeswoman of the UNHCR. Fleming is confronted with shocking stories about suffering every day, considering that an estimated number of 65 million have fled their homes because of conflict and hunger. But with her protagonist Doaa by her side, the opposite is the case. Their joint book is an attempt to give a face to refugees. 

A happy childhood in Syria

The author combines this approach with references to "certain politicians" wanting to profit from people's fears and worries. Fleming calls this a time in which refugees are not seen as people anymore. She doesn’t mention anyone by name, but there's no doubt about a particular American she is talking about. Yet US-president Donald Trump is only one of many. In Europe, the list of homophobic politicians has grown longer over the years.

Melissa Fleming (UNHCR/S. Hopper)

Melissa Fleming of UNHCR: Giving a face to refugees

Despite all of this, Doaa patiently tells her story. She talks in Arabic, an interpreter translates into German. The audience learns about her happy childhood in a big family in Dara’a in Southwestern Syria, where Doaa al Zamel was born. She is six years old as demonstrations against the Assad-regime take place in Damascus. The protests, two hours away by car, are violently suppressed.

First escape to Egypt

Doaa’s family escapes to Egypt after her father's barbershop gets destroyed and the women have to face insults. At the beginning in Egypt, they fared well under President Mursi, Doaa says. But then Al-Sisi took over, and it got dangerous again. Together with her fiancée Bassem, Doaa decides to travel across the Meditarrenean, even though she does not know how to swin. In September 2014, they climb on a boat along with 500 other refugees. It is an overcrowded vessel unfit for disturbances at sea and will never reach Italian shores.

Buchcover Doaa - Meine Hoffnung trug mich über das Meer

"A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea", originally published in English

As the boat capsizes, Doaa and Bassem are still together. Around them, people are drowning. After two days in the open sea, Bassem's strength is failing. Doaa has to watch as he drownes. She herself clings to a swimming ring made for children. Two drowning refugees entrust in her care their two baby girls - one is only nine months old. On the fourth day, they are rescued by the crew of a cargo ship.

A new life in Sweden

Today, nearly two and a half years later, Doaa lives in Sweden. Other family members have found refuge there as well. Others are still on the run. In this northern part of Europe, people are open and friendly to her, she says. She is eagerly learning Swedish and is happy about her life in a completely different country. Yet she still has hopes to return to Syria one day. With her story that is now published as a book, the 21-year old wants to give other refugees hope. The book was first published earlier in February in English and is now available in German. Other languages are due to follow.


 

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