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Beyond Borders : Syrian Refugee Re-unites with Family After a Year, Shares Kisses Through Wired Fences in Cyprus But Hopes to go ‘Home’ Someday

Survival in Syria has become increasingly difficult- the refugee revealed that natives have to either be a jihadist, or align with President Bashar al- Assad, or anyone else, and steal or kill

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Refugee
Ammar Hammasho from Syria, who lives in Cyprus, kisses his children who arrived at the refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia, outside Nicosia, Cyprus (VOA)
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Cyprus, September 14, 2017 : After more than a year of separation, Syrian refugee Ammar Hammasho was finally, albeit briefly, reunited with his wife and four children through a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire in Cyprus.

Hammasho, who is from the war-ravaged Idlib region, fell to his knees and kissed each of his three eldest children through the three-meter-high barrier encircling a migrant reception center at Kokkinotrimithia, west of the Cypriot capital Nicosia.

The youngest son of the Syrian refugee, Jumah — named after their second-born who was killed in an air raid in 2015 — was held up by his wife, Shamuos. He kissed the protracted palm of Sham, his tiny daughter, who was dressed in a black frock neatly tucked in at the waist with a belt, small white jacket and pink sandals.

“The policeman told me to wait half an hour to finish the count. I couldn’t wait, I saw the kids through the fence and I did this,” he said, waving his hands over his head.

“The kids ran over. I just wanted to see them, for my heart to go back into its place,” the 34-year-old construction worker told Reuters on Wednesday.

The reunion came on Sunday, just hours after Hammasho’s wife and their children — aged 7, 5, 4 and 18 months — came ashore with 300 other Syrians in northwestern Cyprus after a 24-hour trip on a small boat from Mersin in Turkey, in what was one of the largest mass landings on the island since the Syrian war began.

Refugee
Ammar Hammasho from Syria, who lives in Cyprus, kisses his children who arrived at the refugee camp in Kokkinotrimithia outside Nicosia, Cyprus (VOA)

Hammasho knew his family was trying to leave Syria, but didn’t know precisely when.

“When I read on the internet that about 250 were heading to Cyprus I knew it was them,” he said with a smile.

‘I will go home’ after war

Hammasho had taken a similar route one year ago, landing in Cyprus on Sept. 6, 2016. Working as a construction worker, he managed to amass the $6,000 to pay a trafficker to get his family to Cyprus.

He now has “subsidiary” protection status, which is one step short of being recognized as a refugee.

“I’m told they will be back with me on Friday, or maybe Sunday,” Hammasho said from a tiny bedsit in Limassol, a sprawling coastal city 100 km (60 miles) away from the reception camp.

ALSO READ Ground Report: How ISIS is ruining lives of people in Syria and Iraq

Speaking in the distinct Cypriot Greek dialect, he has the benefit of language and friends, having already worked four years in Cyprus from 2004 to 2008.

“I thought the minute I left [in 2008], that would be that. I built a house [in Syria]. I got married. I bought a field. Sixteen skales,” he said, using a Cypriot measurement term to describe his 1.6 hectares.

“I worked day and night, do you understand? Now I [still] have a field. But my house is dust.”

Hammasho’s second-eldest child, Jumah, was almost five when he was killed. Remaining in Syria was simply not an option, he said.

“Look, in Syria right now you cannot live a life. I don’t have a home. I lost a baby. … I don’t want to dirty my hands with blood, do you understand?

“If you want to eat bread … you have to have blood on your hands. You have to be either a jihadist, or be with [President Bashar al-] Assad, or anyone else, and steal or kill. And if you start that, you are finished. That is what life is like there now. I can’t do it. There are those who can.”

The table is strewn with his identification papers and the classified sections of newspapers, pinned down by an untouched pot of Arabic coffee.

His bedsit is small. Hammasho is looking for a house so he and his family can start anew. But he says it will only be temporary until the family can return to Syria one day.

“As soon as it stops, I’m leaving. I will go back to my field. I have a machine to extract water. I have fields to water. It’s my country and I will go home.” (VOA)

 

 

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US Painted in New Colours By A Refugee Artist

"There's so much talk in the news now about refugees, and how many people we should let into the country, and what are they contributing," Weiss said.

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Ahmad Alkarkhi has started painting with a whole new color palette since he came to the U.S. These colorful horses represent refugees who come from all over and work and live together. VOA

Refugees carry few material possessions when they flee war, violence or persecution in their homelands. But they do bring talent and skill to their new countries.

At the Sandy Spring Museum in Sandy Spring, Maryland, that talent is on display in an exhibit of six refugee artists from Iraq, Ethiopia and Somalia.

Some of the displayed works depict the refugee artists’ memories of their homelands.

“My hometown is Wollo,” explained Ethiopian artist Fetun Getachew. “There is a marketplace once a week. People meet there at the markets for not only buying or selling, [but] just meet together for so many purposes.”

Six artists from Iraq, Ethiopia and Somalia exhibit their work at the Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland, which bills itself as the "heart of the community."
Six artists from Iraq, Ethiopia and Somalia exhibit their work at the Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland, which bills itself as the “heart of the community.” VOA

Iraqi artist Ahmad Alkarkhi contributed a landscape of his country. “I want to show Americans good things about my country,” he said. “This beautiful landscape, no war or different things.”

But coming to a new country inevitably changes the work. For Alkarkhi, it has added color.

“In my country, we don’t have a lot of color there, just gray and brown,” he said. “Here, I saw four seasons clear. I saw many colors. This … change[s] my art, and I need to add more colors to my painting.”

In an unincorporated community of about 6,000 people near Washington, D.C., the museum considers itself a “living history museum,” but not in the conventional sense in which museums employ re-enactors to depict history.

Iraqi Exhibition
Visitors study some of the works on display in the refugee exhibit at the Sandy Spring Museum in Maryland. Many of the works depict scenes from the artists’ home countries. VOA

Rather, Sandy Spring is a place where the community can gather and “have unexpected encounters,” according to the museum website. “It means having cultural artists create experiences for the entire community to enjoy.”

Museum executive director Allison Weiss thinks this particular exhibit says a lot about the contributions of refugees.

“There’s so much talk in the news now about refugees, and how many people we should let into the country, and what are they contributing,” Weiss said. “And I think this exhibit shows that there’s individuals behind the word refugees and they have all sorts of talents that maybe we’re not hearing about from the news.”

Dancing with colors

Alkarkhi works in maintenance at an apartment complex in Riverdale, Maryland. But at night and on the weekends, he can be found in front of a canvas set up in the living room of his small apartment.

Iraq
Iraqi artist Ahmad Alkarkhi paints a landscape at a park near his home in Riverdale, Maryland. VOA

“Painting for me [is] like music. Each painting, different music. I just tell myself, ‘Let me dance with colors on the canvas,'” he said.

Alkarkhi graduated from the University of Baghdad, College of Fine Arts. He was a well-known artist in Iraq until violence forced him to flee to Syria in 2006. But war came there, too. Once again, he was uprooted, relocating three years later to Riverdale with his wife and two children.

Alkarkhi said creating art is his way to give back to America for helping him and his family build a new life in safety.

“America gives refugees a lot of things. I want to do beautiful painting, and I give it to this country and to the people to enjoy with my art,” he said.

Alkarkhi is also painting his experiences as a refugee in his new color palette, as in his piece, “Colorful Horses.”

Also Read: Fear Rise of ‘Lost Generation’ as More Syrian Refugee Children Out of School

“These horses are like refugees. Some from Europe, some from Africa, some came from [the] Middle East. And they come here, they work together, live together, do many things together,” he explained.

“Then, after like 10, 20 years, everybody say I am American. And everybody try to do something good for this country.” (VOA)