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World Refugee Day: Every refugee has a story

The Syrian grandfather's coat

Nabil Hamy had his grandfather’s coat brought to Germany from Syria Photo: private

Khalaf Kalo Khalf’s mobile phone helped him and his family to survive on the run. Photo: Malteser International

Hessam Abdollahi was forced to flee Iraq because of his Christian faith. Photo: private

There are now more people on the run from war, natural disasters and epidemics than there have ever been since the end of the Second World War. Usually, refugees escape their homes with nothing more than their lives, but sometimes they manage to save a treasured possession from the destruction. But what object could be important enough to carry on a dangerous journey of thousands of miles? Malteser International spoke to refugees in Germany, Austria, and Iraq to find out:

Nabil Hamy, 25, was just ten when he fled to Germany from Syria in 2001. His parents were the subjects of political persecution. At the time, Nabil had no idea about what he would miss most in his new home. When a friend asked him five years ago if he should bring Nabil something from Syria, he knew at once the thing that he wanted most. “I was unbelievably sad that I had to leave my grandparents,” he said. “I loved my grandparents very much, and I missed them terribly. I was far away when they died, and that hurt a lot. So I asked my friend to bring my grandfather’s coat from Syria. He used to cover me with it like a blanket when I was a child. I wanted to have something that perhaps still had his smell, and that reminded me of my grandparents.” Today, Nabil lives in Wesseling in Germany, and is team leader at a refugee facility.

When Khalaf Kalo Khalf, 29, had to flee his home village Sununi, in Iraq’s Sinjar district with his wife and three children in the face of advancing ISIS fighters, the only things that he could save were phone and a few bottles of water. They took nothing else. “My mobile phone was essential, there was no way I could leave it behind. It was very important to keep in contact with other people on the run to find out which routes were safe.” Now Khalaf lives in a camp for internally-displaced people in the Kurdistan region, and hopes that he and his family will be able to make it back home in the near future.

Hessam Abdollahi, 23, lives in Innsbruck, Austria. He fled from Iraq in October 2015 because of the hostility he suffered as a Christian student. As a reminder of this difficult time, and as a sign of his faith, he carried his treasured Bible in Arabic script on his long and hazardous way to Austria. “For me, the Bible is a gift from God, and it was my best friend on my journey. It changed my life and because of that, I would never have left it behind. Now, the Bible is my motivation to build a new life.”

Malteser International helps people who have been forced to flee their homes all around the world. According to the UNHCR at the moment most refugees originate from the Middle East. In this region alone last year, Malteser International provided medical care for around 167,300 people, and distributed aid material to 52,500. However, a number of African and Asian countries also host refugees, and Malteser International works in many of them to give refugees better health, and a better quality of life. In Myanmar and Thailand, for example, last year we brought clean drinking water to 68,750 people, while in Uganda, we distributed valuable aid including food and hygiene items to more than 20,000 refugees.

For editors: Ingo Radtke, Malteser International’s Secretary General is available for interviews.
Contact: Tel.: +49 (0)221 9822 155, katharina.kiecol(at)malteser-international.org

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Katharina Kiecol
Email: katharina.kiecol(at)malteser-international.org

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