They Gave Up Everything to Become Refugees…For the Sake of Their Family

Today, on World Refugee Day, we want to tell you the story of one of the many refugee families you are partnering with in Iraq.

This is how we always picture Hozan and Mustafa—brothers, working hard together. They shared a work bench during the recent aluminum and PVC training course. They worked on projects together, took turns holding pieces still while the other drilled or fastened. They are obviously close, as most Middle Eastern families are.

We recently sat down with Hozan and Mustafa at their home in a Syrian refugee camp. We were offered bowls heaped with cherries and plums even though their family was fasting, and we got to hear some of the sacrifices they’ve made for each other, risks taken, for love. We lined the small room—our own staff, Hozan, Mustafa, their elderly parents, nephews, as well as their beautiful young sister confined to a bed after two botched surgeries on her back.

They gave up everything they had in Syria to be here, in this Iraqi refugee camp, safe and together.

When civil war broke out in Syria in 2011, few believed that it would still be raging six years later, with no end in sight. No one could have guessed that nearly half a million of their neighbours would be dead or that the average life expectancy in Syria would fall from 76 years to 56 years. More than six million Syrians are displaced within the country, and more than five million Syrians are refugees—driven out of their country in search of safety.

Like so many others, Hozan and Mustafa’s family stayed put for the first couple years of the war. They thought the conflict would run it’s course, that violence would never reach them, and their country would return to some semblance of normal. Hozan lived in Aleppo and worked as a barber. Mustafa stayed on at the family farm to help his father work the land and occasionally picked up extra work as a day labourer.

But in time, it became clear that the war wouldn’t end anytime soon. And if the war reached their farmhouse door, if they had to flee quickly, they simply couldn’t. They had elderly parents and a disabled sister to consider.

Three and a half years ago, they made an agonizing decision—they sold their family farm in Syria and paid their way to a stable area of Iraq. At least in Iraq they would be safe and together.

In giving up their farm, they not only lost their land, but their way of life. They have made their raw concrete block home in the refugee camp comfortable, but there is no orchard here, nowhere to plant vegetables, nowhere to keep sheep for milk. In giving up their farm they lost their livelihood and independence.

There are things you do for those you love, sacrifices you make, risks you take.

This is where you stepped into their story. You met them in a refugee camp and offered them a new way to a living—building with aluminum and PVC. With all the rebuilding that needs to happen in Iraq, these skills are in high demand right now.

Hozan and Mustafa rose to the opportunity. They worked hard. When they collaborated on a project with their class (more on that soon), they were the first to volunteer for the hard, awkward jobs—squeezing between stair treads and balancing on beams to get every piece just right.

Because of you, Hozan and Mustafa learned a new trade. Because of you, they gained skills that can be used both while they’re displaced, and back home in Syria.

However, returning to Syria is going to take a while. It seems like the war won’t be over anytime soon. And it won’t be safe for Hozan and Mustafa’s family to return for quite a while after it does—they’ll want to wait until their home is truly safe and basic services and utilities are reestablished.

Mustafa and Hozan are concerned about starting work while making sure they are still available for their parents and sister. But this is how you continue to walk with this family—by hearing their concerns and providing resources to help them navigate and balance their desire to work, their need to support their family, and the realities of life in a refugee camp.

This is not the easy way to help refugees. But it’s the right way. Thank you for continuing in this posture of listening, of partnership, of coaching through complications, of starting flexible businesses, so refugees like Mustafa andHozan can be successful.

Today, on World Refugee Day, partner with refugees to unmake violence and remake the world.