When Ammar Alshtewy saw his mother again on the 7th, he did not know whether to be happy or cry. On the one hand, Fatima Alaar looked terrible, hospitalized in Poland with respiratory problems, dehydration and foot injuries that had caused her five days of marching from the Belarusian border through the Bialowieza Forest. On the other hand, they saw and hugged each other for the first time since in 2015 – during the migratory wave in which more than a million refugees arrived in the EU – Alshtewy escaped from a Syria at war and ended up building a new life in Brussels, thanks to the refugee distribution plan approved by the EU countries.
“He had waited so long … and it was both horrible and happy,” he tells this newspaper in the Polish city of Bialystok, already with refugee status in Belgium, a job as a gardener and two daughters with his English wife, at the he met when he was in a refugee camp in Greece.
Alshtewy, 25, took the first flight from Brussels to Warsaw as soon as she learned that her 46-year-old mother was hospitalized in Hajnowka, the main town around the forest her mother passed through. “I wanted to understand what was going on, not just wait around. I didn’t think that maybe I wouldn’t even see her [si hubiese sido devuelta a Bielorrusia]. At that moment you don’t think, you buy the flight ”. Alaar had been located by the Polish security forces while moving towards the center of the EU with one of his daughters, 21, and six other people. They were all returned hot to Belarus (her daughter is still there) except her: she was in such bad shape that she was taken by ambulance to Hajnowka.
“At the hospital, they only let me see her for half an hour. His heartbeat was unstable, but I already imagined that. The group advanced drinking from the lakes and without food. I was in contact with them, but she never carried the phone. At first they passed her on to me or let her send me a voice message, but I began to suspect that she was unwell in the last three days, in which they insisted that she was fine, but they did not let me communicate directly with her, “she recalls . Alshtewy then contacted Grupa Granica, a group of Polish NGOs involved in defending the rights of migrants, who later informed him that his mother was in hospital in serious condition. Then she was informed of the legal process because she “was sure” that she would be returned to Belarus, she says.
“He’s fine now,” says Alshtewy with a calm voice and a perennial smile. The best proof is that just then she calls him to insist that he go to dinner because he is so thin. Alaar has requested international protection in Poland and is recovering, along with other convalescent migrants, in a shelter run by the Dialog Foundation in Bialystok, the main city in the northeast of the country, 50 kilometers from Belarus.
It is the story of a family reunion in an unexpected place, Poland, but also of the spaces in which two migratory crises converge: the one that put Europe in front of the mirror six years ago and the one – much smaller – that is orchestrated today by the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko to put pressure on an EU border. In both, Syria was at war. There, in the province of Damascus, his father and five of his brothers follow.
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Alshtewy recounts his 2015 migration odyssey in a VIP travel tone that he was always lucky in. The story sounds different. When the war broke out in 2011, his family fled Dayr Makir, in the south-west of the country, turned into a “point of confrontation” between the two sides. He stayed in the rebel zone and, four years later, made an immense detour to the Turkish border to avoid the territories in the hands of forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad: from Deraa (in the south, almost touching Jordan) to Aleppo, in the northwestern tip, via Deir Ezzor, in the desert east of the country. “In Raqqa [epicentro del entonces Califato Islámico], Daesh [ISIS] he held us for two days. But they were not aggressive. They just tried to convince me to join them, ”he recalls.
He spent a year in Turkey. “The first three months were horrible, but then I found a job as a sheepherder and very good,” he says. From Turkey he arrived by boat to a Greek island in 35 minutes (“my uncle spent 12 days from Libya to Italy, imagine”, he adds). He lived for eight months in one of the refugee camps of an overwhelmed Greece and began to work as a translator between Arabic and English for organizations on the ground. This is how he met his now wife, who worked as a volunteer and with whom he has a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old daughter.
In 2015, her mother did not want to leave her land, but the opening of the Belarusian route recently convinced her that the time had come. “They ran out of money. They have sold all their land, ”laments Alshtewy. “In Syria, it is no longer just the risk of dying in war. There is also the insecurity. They can kidnap you at any time. People can do anything out of hunger. And those who do not have money to send them from Europe are very bad ”.
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