The chance for a fresh start.
As Syrian refugees living in an impoverished neighbourhood in Beirut, Lebanon, and with Samer barely earning enough to keep a roof over their heads, he did not want to give his eldest son false hope.
“I would tell him, ‘It is an impossible dream for us to go to those countries’,” Samer said.
But then the impossible happened.
Samer’s family was identified by UNHCR for resettlement due to multiple vulnerabilities, including the children having to sacrifice school in order to help their family make a living in Beirut.
After several interviews by UNHCR and the Spanish authorities, the family were accepted for resettlement to Spain.
The family recently flew to Madrid as part of a group of Syrian refugees whose resettlement had been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like we have been reborn,” Samer said shortly before their departure.
“Life was very difficult and we had to compromise our children’s education and struggle every day to survive, but now we have been given a new chance.”
Resettlement represents a vital and, at times, truly life-saving solution for some of the world’s most vulnerable refugees. Many face threats to their safety, freedom and wellbeing in their country of asylum.
At the same time, the chance of a fresh start in a new country is only open to a small fraction of those in need. Out of more than 20 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, around 1.4 million are assessed as being in need of resettlement and only around seven per cent end up getting that chance.
The number of refugees resettled has dwindled even further during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many receiving countries closing their borders to contain the spread of the virus or reducing the number of resettlement places available.
For Samer, the chance to start over in Spain is a blessing after years of hardship since fleeing to Lebanon at the start of the Syria crisis in 2011.
Originally from Idlib in northwest Syria, Samer had received death threats himself and even threats to Ghaith who was just four years old at the time.
“They said, ‘If you don’t leave today, we are going to kill your little child’,” Samer said.
Together with Ghaith, his wife Ghada, and their two other sons Mohammad and Jamil, they arrived in Lebanon and settled in a poor neighbourhood in south Beirut.
Samer, who suffers from an injured back and poor eyesight, decided to sell vegetables in their area from a rented three-wheeled cart.
His sons used to help him push the cart and make deliveries in the morning before going to school in the afternoon. But as their financial situation deteriorated, they would work longer hours and often be late for lessons. Eventually, the boys dropped out altogether.
“I have failed my kids in regard to education,” Samer said.
“Many times, we missed the [start] of school so they would skip going, but it was against my will – we had to do that. I want to build a new, dignified life and better future for them,” he said.
Ghaith is looking forward to resuming his education, playing football in Spain and finally seeing where his favourite team play.
His youngest brother Jamil, 10, has already learnt several words in Spanish, and 12-year-old Mohammad is looking forward to getting back to the classroom.
“I hear that Spain is beautiful. I want to go to school, make friends and become a doctor or an engineer,” Mohammad said.
Although Samer is aware there will be challenges in adapting to life in a new country, he is excited by the opportunity and ready to work hard to give his family the chance at a new start.
“I want to open a shop and develop a business … I don’t like sitting at home, I love working,” Samer said.
“What may be difficult is moving to a new community with a new language you must learn, but when you have a goal in mind nothing is too difficult. The will I have to [make] a better future for us is stronger than all challenges.”
The majority of funds raised by Australia for UNHCR are directed to UNHCR’s emergency operations, providing the ready funds and resources to respond quickly and effectively in situations of crisis and disaster.