Syrian refugees in Egypt:


During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence CARE’s Johanna Mitscherlich reflects on meeting Marwa, a young Syrian woman whose family was forced to flee from Syria to Egypt almost two years ago.

While Marwa listens to the trainer during one of CARE’s sports activities she seems to be soaking up everything she hears and sees. At first glance Marwa appears to be younger than her 19 years. But hearing her speak and looking into her fierce blue eyes, her sophistication, brightness and curiosity leave you wondering what made this young woman mature so quickly.

In the basement of a local aid organization in the city of Oboor, about an hour drive from Cairo, she shares her story and concerns with other young people.
“I often feel like people here do not understand me. They see a young, happy girl. They ask me ‘What are you doing here? Syria was a rich country in comparison to Egypt – why could you not stay?’ I want to tell them about the war and tell them that we have lost everything. But a lot of times I am either too angry or too tired to say anything.”
The others nod their heads. They know what Marwa is talking about. They come from Damascus, Aleppo and Homs, from cities and from the country side. They were students in universities and worked in factories. They have different histories, but now all share the same fate. They had to flee their homes in Syria and have sought refuge in Egypt.
Marwa fled to Egypt with her mother, her sister and her younger brother a year and eight months ago.
“I have counted every single day,” she says. “This is exactly how long I have not seen my big brother.”
They wanted to flee together, as a family. But the day they were supposed to leave her 20-year old brother was arrested.
“He was the most talented person I knew. He studied architecture at the university in Damascus. I truly believe that he would have built houses like no one has ever seen before.”
Marwa’s fierce blue eyes fill up with tears. Her father stayed in Syria, trying to get her brother out of prison. After six months, he gave up and joined the family in Egypt. They have not heard from her brother ever since.
“No one can see how angry I actually am,” says Marwa. “I am angry that my precious teenage years were taken from me, that I cannot continue my studies, that I have lost my home and my friends.”
Marwa apologizes and says she is ashamed that she is so angry.
“People die every day. They lose their homes. Millions of my fellow Syrians need help. Some even have to eat dirt to survive,” a frown line appears on her forehead. “I know that there are people whose situation is worse, but I cannot help but feeling angry. I always wanted to study pharmacy, like my mother, but now I cannot afford it and the education system here is different.”
She explains that she has always been one of the top students in her school, had private English lessons and her parents owned a big house and several companies. In Egypt, her parents cannot work. They have applied for a work permit, but even a year after their arrival their applications have not been processed. Now, they have to rely on food vouchers from the UN and help from others.
“I saw our house on Facebook. I would not have recognized it if it was not for the street and buildings next to it. It looked like a cake someone had sat on.”
But Marwa does not want to give up; she does not want her life and her heart and soul to suffer. She is attending CARE’s recreational and psychosocial sessions in Oboor. Together with other young men and women she has decided to walk the long way to recovery – step by step.
“I am still so young. I have my entire life ahead of me. I want to be strong to become someone great,” says Marwa.
In regular sports activities the young adults get together and learn through games how they can better cooperate, preserve space for themselves and how to practice non-violent behavior. Violence and how to address it is the recurrent theme of the sessions.
For Marwa, CARE’s psychosocial and recreational activities have become very important.
“I am so glad that I have found new friends. This has really helped me to learn about how we can communicate with each other. The war in Syria made me forget how much friends can help you, and that even in your darkest hour there might be a solution waiting for you. I have learnt how to deal with all kinds of people and feel happiness again.”

Written by Johanna Mitscherlich, Emergency Communications Coordinator