HOPE: OUR ULTIMATE RESISTANCE Inspiring tales
Times are troubled, the news is bad and our world can seem like a very scary place to be. But the human spirit is not easily extinguished. Good Housekeeping speaks to three extraordinary women helping to build a better future for us all
‘No one leaves their home unless they have no choice’
Working as a foreign correspondent, Christina Lamb has reported on wars and genocides. But the migrant crisis has left the deepest impression on her heart, and she is determined to open everyone’s eyes to the tragedy...
The first Syrian refugee I met in Europe was Dr Ayman Mostafa, a 40-year-old surgeon from Aleppo. He had lost his wife and three-year-old daughter when their smuggler’s boat capsized trying to get to Italy. His phone was full of pictures of them, which he couldn’t bear to look at. ‘It would be like looking at the sun,’ he told me. ‘It would burn my eyes.’ Meeting Dr Ayman made me look differently at the sea. Until then, I’d thought of the Mediterranean as somewhere for holidays and fun. Now I looked out, pictured him in the water calling ‘Fatima!’ and ‘Joud!’ over and over again, and it seemed a treacherous place. His story also brought home that the refugee crisis is about people. Back in Aleppo, he told me, they’d had a nice house with pet rabbits. He
seemed like someone who might live next door.
After years of covering forgotten wars in far-off countries, when refugees started flooding into Europe in 2015, I thought at last people would have to take notice and do something. But as more than a million refugees flooded into the EU, it became a major crisis. Governments failed to deal with them, even though the number who arrived that year was less than 0.2% of the EU’S population – the vast majority of the world’s refugees are in developing countries.
Following the refugee trail as a journalist for The Sunday Times, I saw the best and worst of humanity. I watched governments erecting fences, border guards using tear gas and truncheons on families, and people-traffickers earning fortunes by cramming refugees into old patched dinghies and selling life jackets that didn’t float. But I also saw volunteers coming with food, drink, dry clothes and chargers for smartphones, which are essential refugee kit. I will never forget the old widows on Lesbos, whose own cupboards were bare, turning out on the beaches with tea, biscuits and hugs.
No one leaves their home unless they have no choice. Seeing politicians use words like ‘swarm’ and ‘plague’ made me determined to show that refugees are not just numbers, and everyone has a story. Imagine abandoning everything you ever worked for, everyone you know, and taking your children on a boat you know might capsize.
It’s a dangerous journey for able-bodied people. So I was astonished to meet a girl in a wheelchair who was being pushed across Europe by her sister. Her name was Nujeen and she spoke English fluently, which she told me she had learnt from watching American soap operas while trapped in a fifth-floor flat in Aleppo. Despite being bumped around, she had a huge smile and made me laugh by telling me she was disappointed that the food in Europe didn’t look like it did on Masterchef.
It’s people like Nujeen who make my job worthwhile – otherwise the relentless diet of death and destruction would be too grim. I wouldn’t do this job if it wasn’t for inspirational people like her.
Sometimes it’s hard. In the old days, at the end of an assignment, I’d just go on to the next story. Now, with Whatsapp, we stay in touch. One of the people who messages me is Tuba, 16, an exquisite Afghan girl whose family had to flee because the Taliban threatened to kill her for learning English. We met in Greece where they are stranded. When she saw the piece I had written with the photo of her, she messaged me; ‘What difference does it make?’ Sadly, I can see she has a point. All I can do is keep writing and hope that it will make a difference. Christina Lamb is chief foreign correspondent at The Sunday Times. Her most recent book is The Girl From Aleppo; Nujeen’s Escape From War To Freedom
‘I’ll never forget the old Greek widows who turned out on the beaches with biscuits and hugs’
Christina:‘the refugee crisis is about people, not just numbers’
Humanity at its best: Volunteers and refugees come together at a camp in Greece
Christina keeps in touch with Tuba, the 16-year-old Afghan girl she wrote about
For some, the message is clear – and this offers hope to those seeking asylum