Syrian Refugee Crisis: Finding Love in a Hopeless Place
24-year-old Noor and 27-year-old Amfiraz met just over 4 years ago while studying together in Syria. For Noor, it was love at first sight. Two years later the couple were engaged.
During this time they watched the situation in their home town of Raqqa deteriorate further and further, it became the center of the conflict that was ravaging their country with daily bombings and terror. A few weeks ago they made the difficult decision to leave their homeland and family — selling everything they owned to pay for their passage from Syria to Turkey and on into Greece and Eastern Europe. But not before making things official and finally tying the knot.
Before leaving they held a party with family and close friends – Noor’s mother and grandmother were able to attend, but on Amfiraz’s side only his father was there. As they show me the wedding photos which are just made up of him and a crowd of women he says sadly; “there are no men left in Syria.” After this impromptu party they flew to Turkey where they made the marriage official and legal. “The rest of our family could not afford to make the journey out of Syria so we were alone,” says Noor.
Ever since then they have been on the move, with no time to celebrate, plan or even to spend proper alone time as newlyweds. They took an old and over packed ship to Greece and then further ships within Greece to get up towards the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Since then they have been traveling by train, bus and on foot to reach their current position on the Serbian-Croatian border.
Arriving at around 7pm at night it is already dark as they begin the 30 minute walk from the drop off zone to the official border point where Croatian officials are intermittently letting people through to board buses to the Croatian camp just inside the country where they wait for the next round of buses to Slovenia. Amfiraz tells me; “we haven’t slept properly for five days. We got one hour’s sleep in the camp in Macedonia but this is it. Before that the last time we managed to sleep a bit was in the 14 hour ship in Greece. It is too cold - we can’t sleep and we have to keep awake to see when and where we will go next.” To this, he adds; “we are so very tired.”
Despite this they are very positive and chatty. Still basking in the glow of newly wed bliss they joke about the lack of privacy and how they are still young will have time for ‘lust’ later on once they reach their final destination. As they show their photos of their journey so far, posing in front of famous Turkish and Greek landmarks, you could almost be mistaken for thinking this was just a young couple on their honeymoon. But now, standing in front of me, shivering with their bundles of clothes, blankets and other aid items they have picked up along the way, there is no doubt that this was not a journey of choice.
Their lifeline is Amfiraz’s Samsung mobile phone. With this he documents their journey in pictures, but more importantly he keeps in touch with family and friends – especially those friends who have already reached Germany; the place they are aiming for. He is constantly on applications such as WhatsApp, Viber and Facebook checking in, sharing info and photos of the situation. The most crucial use of his phone, however, is for the GPS maps that tell them where they are - what country, where in that country and where to go next. Whenever he gets internet access he downloads the map for the next stage of the journey. Thankfully at most stops along the way they have been able to find spots to charge their phones and Wi-Fi access including at CARE’s point at the Croatian border. In the 21st century technology has really become the difference between life and death for some.
For Amfiraz and Noor the biggest problem is the cold. While winter in Syria can get cold they tell me it is nothing like this, and temperatures are only dropping. Especially at night temperatures are almost at freezing. “It is very cold, I have to hold and cuddle Noor at night just to keep her warm,” says Amfiraz. “But we live and keep warm in love,” he adds with a big smile.