The Journey of a Refugee: Omar Almasri

The Journey of a Refugee: Omar Almasri

Publication info

Dobrila Markovic, CARE

The first time I see Omar Almasri, he is lying on the floor at the refugee reception centre in Sid, a Serbian city on the border with Croatia.  He is too weak to speak to me.

Later, I learn, that the 20-year-old had just arrived by train, having spent two weeks traveling from his hometown Daraa in southern Syria. He was hoping to make it to Germany. “The most dangerous part was crossing the border between Syria and Turkey – it took me three days, during which, I had to swim across a river.  Then we were put into a rubber boat to cross the sea to Greece. It took us five hours to cross because we got lost and the boat ran out of fuel.” It was in Greece when he first started to feel ill, and, since then, his health has deteriorated significantly.

Omar was taken to a local medical centre and then to the Institute for Pulmonary Diseases in Novi Sad, Serbia, where he was urgently admitted. The viral pneumonia he was diagnosed with was so severe, the doctors induced an artificial coma to help him recover. “Apparently the treatment was successful. I woke up in the hospital a few days later. I was very frightened and confused. At first I didn’t remember what had happened to me, and I was so weak I couldn’t even speak.”

Since none of the medical staff spoke Arabic, the translators of Novi Sad Humanitarian Centre, CARE’s long-standing partners in Serbia, explained to him what had happened. After 13 days we were finally able to get in contact with Omar’s parents in Syria and inform them where their son was. His father was in tears as he had not heard any news about his son for many days.

After over two weeks, Omar was checked out of hospital and taken to the reception centre in Sid. With the help of local authorities, we set him up in a room with heating, and CARE provided cooked food and fresh fruit and vegetables necessary for his recovery. Still visibly weak and 20 kg thinner than he was at the start of his journey, Omar is slowly recovering. “I still hope I will be able to make it to Germany. I would like to study economics.” The closure of the borders, which happened just at the time when Omar was in the hospital, significantly reduces his chances to achieve his plan. However, he does not lose hope. In the reception centre, he feels “It is so lonely here, without anyone I know and I’m so worried about the future. But I can’t lose hope”.  

CARE International in Balkans has existed since 1992. Since its early days, CARE’s program has expanded and elaborated to meet the changing needs of the region’s vulnerable population. CARE mission was to contribute to post-war recovery and the socio-economic development through the former Yugoslavia. Today, CARE in the Balkans focuses on developing sustainable economic opportunities, increasing the effectiveness of civil society to address issues associated with social reconstruction and inclusion. CARE also works to improve access for the most vulnerable and least advantaged members of society to minimum levels of social protection and entitlement.