From a place called home in South Sudan or Syria, to the camps in Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan and finally to our cities in Europe, the path walked by refugees is long and hard. AVSI asks you to support those who flee, even if only for a portion of their journey. Six stories. Six testimonies. One for each of the projects that we developed following the steps that refugees might take toward a better future. AVSI embraces Pope Francis' appeal: “give real hope” to those who flee every single day from war, persecution and natural disasters.
AVSI proposes to meet people at the beginning of the path, enabling them to stay in their home country if not in their village of origin. For those already on the road, AVSI seeks to serve the basic needs of refugees in transitional settings like reception centers and camps and to enable them to live with dignity despite uncertainty. At the end of the journey, AVSI will work with others to meet refugees in our cities and to help them to integrate and rebuild their life and futures.
Syria: “To Survive in Aleppo”
Samir is 32 years old. Born in Syria, he currently lives at the Custody of the Holy Land Reception Center in Aleppo. “Daily, I pray to God that a bomb won't fall on our head. Even the water became a dangerous weapon in this war: we cannot find it easily and often it's polluted. Here however, working with the friars, we were able to dig new wells. Even if we don't have anything, we feel welcome, as if we were part of their family. Our problems became theirs and it doesn't really matter what our religion is. We are brothers.”
Since 2011, Aleppo has fallen under a ruthless siege; divided into areas controlled by rival factions fighting against each other incessantly. The city is bombarded every day and has neither water nor electricity. About 80% of Aleppo's population is unemployed and living on the breadline. In the last four years, 250,000 people were killed in Syria. Persecuted by groups of terrorists, the vast majority of Christians have fled. In response to this humanitarian emergency, AVSI supports the Custody of the Holy Land activities coordinated by the Association Pro Terra Sancta. The priority now is the Custody of the Holy Land Reception Center in Aleppo. Located inside the Parish of St. Francis, in the district of Azizieh, it welcomes over 200 refugees per day. There families find shelter, a place to sleep and eat, and are given clothes, medicine, and most importantly a welcoming and peaceful place to stay. Friars work on rebuilding the houses, providing psychological assistance, and energizing the parish life and activities. “We assist those in need”, says Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, “We don't make distinctions of race and religion, this is the core of our mission in Syria. Please, help us to stay in Syria”.
Iraq: “Start Over in Erbil”
Originally from Mosul, but living as a refugee in Erbil with her husband and two daughters, Anna and Eliane, Maha is very grateful that her youngest can attend the small kindergarten supported by AVSI in Erbil. “I used to teach Christian religion in a public school and my husband was also a teacher. We fled from the war and after wandering for a while we arrived here. The Baby Jesus House is a safe place where I can take my daughter every day and give her a chance of learning something new.”
ISIS's extreme acts of violence have aggravated an already very critical situation in Iraq, causing tens of thousands of people to flee from Nineveh toward Iraqi Kurdistan. Today , 250,000 refugees Iive in Erbil. In 2014, AVSI opened a kindergarten, The Baby Jesus House, run by a group of Dominican sisters, which receives daily 130 children and is located in Ozal City. 1,200 families live in this community: more than 900 are Christian, while some are Yazidis and others are Muslims. All of them fled from ISIS violence in other parts of Iraq. The kindergarten has four classrooms with 30 children each. In each classroom, there are two teachers, who themselves also had to flee when their own villages were attacked by ISIS. Supporting the Baby Jesus House means allowing these families to recover at least a little bit of "normality" in a situation deeply marked by uncertainty and discomfort.
Lebanon and Jordan: «The last mile»
Originally from Syria, Sultan Fawaz Jalloul lives in Idlib. His family has been living in Lebanon for the last 4 years. He lives inside a tent with his wife and their five children. “I used to cross the border between Syria and Lebanon frequently to work, but when the situation in Syria got worse I decided to stay here. In this refugee camp, however, we were given a twofold opportunity: children can go to school and we, adults, can work, guaranteeing our future without depending on financial aid”.
Today, Lebanon and Jordan have welcomed hundreds of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, and more arrive every day. In Lebanon, the “foreign” presence represents at least a fourth or possibly even more of the current Lebanese population, a time bomb for a country where the political balance is already unstable. In Jordan, the refugee camp located in Zatar is already one of the largest cities in the country in terms of population. In these refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon, it becomes fundamental to promote the human dignity of each of person currently living in no man's land. The “Last Mile” is the gap between the interventions promoted by international NGOs and the refugees' real needs. AVSI acts in order to reduce this gap, and it has already supported approximately 50,000 Syrian and 34,600 Iraqi refugees. Our campaign “Refugees and Us: We are all on the same road” aims to help 750 families of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees, facilitating access to education and improving the families' autonomy through opportunities for work.
South Sudan «Nurturing the Human Person»
Deborah Yomjima teaches at St. Kizito Elementary School, in Juba, South Sudan. “When the war began, I had to run away from my village. AVSI has been helping me since I was little girl. At that time, I was one of the children assisted by their Distance Support Project (DSP); a family overseas loved me and gave me the opportunity to become the person I'm today. I learned how to be thankful, I received so much when I was a child, and now I want to give back to the students I'm with everyday. Although it still doesn't have a permanent structure, this school is very important and we need to make sure it keeps its doors open. Normally in South Sudan we teach under the trees, but when it rains the students cannot come, they have to stay home. This school, on the other hand, is always open, rain or shine.”
South Sudan is the youngest country in the world, and AVSI is supporting a population still hurt by domestic violence. As a result of this violence, almost two million people were forced to leave their homes. Thousands are still living in reception centers or in refugee camps built in Juba. Recently, ONU declared that 4.6 million people in South Sudan are on the edge of starvation, and almost 8 million people are in need of aid. Even before the recent outbreak of violence, South Sudan had a struggling educational system; literacy rates are very low (27%), and 70% of children aged 6-17 years have never been to school. To address these needs, AVSI has created a project whose main goal is to deliver educational and nutritional programs. In particular, the project aims to refurbish St. Kizito Elementary School, the largest elementary school in Juba, with 1,723 students. The project will also involve special training for teachers, building sanitary installations, and nutritional and health classes for both parents and children. AVSI believes that helping South Sudan's population through providing educational and health tools will allow them to stay in their own country, instead of fleeing elsewhere in search of a better future.
Italy «HUB: a place for first aid»
Her name is Selam, which means “peace”. She is 22 years old and has a three year old daughter. She came from Eritrea, an east African nation of 6 million people that is today one of the largest sources of migrants who make the perilous journey into Sudan and across Libya before finally setting out to sea towards Europe's shores. There is no civil war in Eritrea, nor has there been an international military intervention. What Eritreans are desperately trying to escape is a dictatorship. Selam feels lonely, but relieved. “We are all running away from starvation and from continuous violations of human rights. The regime of terror that was established in my country has abolished any right to freedom and it has refused any international aid, denying the crisis and isolating the country. I have decided to take my daughter away from a life with no future.”
Selam is one of the many refugees that on daily basis have been sheltered at the HUB inside the main Train Station in Milan. She crossed the desert, the sea, half of Italy, risking her life, but always facing fear with courage, hope and faith. Refugee assistance began in Milan in 2013. Since then more than 70,000 refugees, including 15,000 children, have been in the HUB. They mainly come from Syria and Eritrea, but also from South Sudan, Mali, Ghana, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria and Libya. All of them fled because they were looking for a better, and mainly more peaceful life. AVSI wants to help these refugees when they first arrive to a new country, and therefore is supporting the HUB created by Fondazione Progetto Arca. Born from a partnership between the Municipality of Milan and various NGOs, the HUB is a place where refugees are received and where they can get more information about immigration laws in Italy and in other European countries. The HUB's mission is to find out what the refugees' needs are and send them to different reception centers around the country. The HUB is open everyday thanks to a trained staff and groups of volunteers. There, refugees can find a medical room, a space for the children, restrooms, showers, a refreshment area, a sleeping area and a room equipped with computers and wi-fi so the refugees can contact their family back in their home countries.
Italy «From the shelter to the independency»
Ahmad is 30 years old, speaks English fluently and is currently studying Italian. He thinks it's vital to learn the language spoken in the country that is sheltering him. He is caressing his son's head and then slowly he shows us a few scars: “He was playing in his room when our house was hit by a bomb”, remembers Ahmad, who was still living in Syria one year ago. Back home, there is nothing left, and Ahmad wants to start all over again. He wants to work. He wants to hope. Above all he wants to keep his promise to his little son: get a new bed and find a safe place to call home.
In Milan, Caritas Ambrosiana helps asylum seekers and refugees to be transferred to parishes and religious bodies that offer spaces and different interventions to promote the refugees' autonomy and integration. In these projects, sheltering the refugees also means helping them to find a job and a way to be better integrated in the society. For this reason, the project "From the hospitality to welcome", supported by AVSI, has two implications: give adequate and legal shelter, and also provide tools such as fellowships and traineeships. By supporting this project the “Refugees and Us” campaign participates in an attempt to offer to the refugees not only a new country to live in, but also a safe "roof" and a formal “job program”, which are not included in the government's plan to assist the refugees.