This walk is to raise funds and awareness for the men of Manus Island. Also known to us as the Lost Boys, with the goal of helping resettle two of them in the GTA.
But we’ve also had another recent addition to our fundraising efforts: Reem and Mohammed.
We first heard about Reem and Mohammed, two Syrian Red Cross/Red Crescent workers, when they were stranded in a No Man’s Land between Turkey and Syria, trying to get over the border into Turkey. An 828 km wall and barbed-wire fence stood in their way. They had tried many times to cross, been thrown into prison, been robbed and beaten in the mountains, and were still trying – always on foot. In an example of what we are symbolically emulating: Reem and Mohammad walked and walked and walked, and each time they had failed.
I tried to raise the alarm through social media but had to give up as the Turkish Gendarmerie is unforgiving to refugees who bring attention to what is happening over there and it was too dangerous to continue.
At one point during their experience I asked if Mohammad could send me a video or some pictures of what they were seeing and he said the following:
Eventually, he did get some pictures at the border crossing, one morning after they had been caught and spent a night and day in a Turkish prison.
During their time inside, the prisoners were woken at up 2 am and taken outside to do construction work filling some gaps in the border wall. They worked for about 10 hours.
Eventually they arrived in Turkey. This is great news! But they have nothing left and no way to earn money. Reem was badly injured during the crossing also.(In the final tally they tried 17 times to cross the border and were put in prison eight times before succeeding.) This is Mohammad after his arrival in the Safe House.
A small portion of the funds raised by Walk Like a Refugee, 2019, will go towards helping Reem and Mohammed get on their feet in Turkey.
A note about why people flee Military service in Syria.
One of the threats to Mohammad in Syria was being forced into military service. People have wondered by Syrians don’t just do their military service.
Under Syrian law, this service is compulsory for Syrian men between the ages of 18 to 42. Those who evade service face imprisonment or forced conscription. The time of service is supposed to be two years but since 2011, most conscripts have been kept in the army indefinitely. Being sent into the military is mostly viewed as either a death sentence or an indentured servitude.
The army has been plagued with defections, desertions, corruption, and a lack of resources. According to the Atlantic, “Pro- and anti-Assad alike—do not believe the war will end anytime soon, despite the regime’s insistence otherwise. So they take huge risks to save their fathers, husbands, sons, and brothers from conscription, especially as the regime has grown more desperate to fill the army’s ranks.”
They are also, it was explained to me, often forced to attack their own people and turn on their own countrymen, because who is fighting who in Syria can be very confusing and its not entirely clear who the “bad guys” are. For example, one of our friend’s fathers was imprisoned and tortured by the Assad regime. These people are then expected to turn around and fight for the people who killed their family members.
This is why people run from military service in Syria.