They are not numbers.. experiences to “sympathize with people” in refugees’ stories

Migrants crossing the borders towards Slovenia - 2015 (theconversation)

Migrants crossing the borders towards Slovenia - 2015 (the conversation)


Enab Baladi – Ninar Khalifa

Wheelchair bound, Syrian refugee Nujeen Mustafa participated in the “First International Refugee Forum” in Geneva, on the occasion of the International Day of Migrants, which falls on December 18. She talked about her experience in an attempt to convey the voice of refugees with disabilities and make their experience as refugees easier and better than before.

Since her arrival in Germany in late 2015, when she was 15 years old, after an arduous journey of more than 5,600 km she made in her wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, Nujeen, originally from the Syrian city of Kobanî (Ayn al-Arab), has taken part in many high-level conferences on refugees, and in TV interviews on global TV channels. She also won a number of awards, and her story turned into a book published in 13 international languages, and she was short-listed on the BBC’s list of the 2018 top 100 influential and inspiring women around the world.

UN statistics indicate an unprecedented rise in the number of people who leave their homelands in search of a new beginning and a life that enables them to overcome the bitterness of their old life, whether forced to leave their country suffering from wars and crises or chose to improve their scientific or social condition. Every day, people from all over the world make one of the most difficult decisions in their lives, with all the required courage for that decision.

Despite all the difficulties that follow their decision, many success and integration stories stand out of the refugees who have fulfilled their dreams and proven their capabilities, as well as the great positive effects of immigration on the hosting countries. Hence, the United Nations celebrated the International Migrants Day this year, under the slogan “We are together”.

International Migrants Day

The United Nations General Assembly has designated December 18 an International Migrants Day, since December 4, 2000, after taking into account the large and increasing numbers of migrants around the world.

On this day, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Nujeen: A New Life

Nujeen recounted to Enab Baladi how her life changed when she arrived in Germany, which was like a new birth for her. “The change was radical. I had many of the basics that I was deprived of in Syria, such as the ability to learn and more independence, as Germany is greatly different in terms of infrastructure and its readiness for people with disabilities. In addition, society’s acceptance of the idea of ​​disability was taken for granted in Germany, and there is nothing strange that a person with a disability holds positions or influential positions in the country despite his disability, and this thing was one of the greatest positive matters for me,” said Nujeen.

She indicated that through her book, which she published in late 2016 under the title “A Girl from Aleppo”, in partnership with British writer Christina Lamb, she tried to convey the suffering of refugees to the world, and change the vision of others about them, so that they can “sympathize with people” from the reports they see in the news and digital statistics.

The translation of the book contributed to conveying the voice of the victims of the Syrian war and the refugee crisis around the world to the largest possible number of people, according to Nujeen. The book also formed an opportunity to express the different parts of her identity as a Syrian, Kurdish, girl with a disability.

Nujeen drew attention to the positive impact that refugees can make in the societies that hosted them, and to these people’s major role in developing these countries and adding new value to them, pointing out to the importance of working to outweigh the positive aspects over the negative ones, so as not to predominate the voice of those trying to “sabotage this beautiful painting.”

There is no doubt that the course of asylum is not easy or rosy, and Nujeen believes that the refugees who crossed long distances can do more than that, and they do not surrender, “as within each of them there exists a warrior, and it is certain that he will win.”

Nujeen dreams to continue the course of defending the rights of refugees and people with disabilities, and to have a positive impact on their lives, hoping that peace will be achieved around the world.

Nujeen’s story is one of many stories of inspiring refugees who, when given the opportunity to restart their lives in hosting countries, have proven their creativity and influence in various fields of art, science, technology, literature, and politics.

Unprecedented levels of migrants’ numbers, on top of whom are Syrians

United Nations statistics indicate that the number of international migrants reached more than 272 million people in 2019, a rate that exceeds the rapid growth of the global population, according to new data issued by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Syria is the largest country exporting refugees around the world, with the number of Syrian refugees exceeding six million people, according to statistics of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in its report on international migration of 2020 issued on November 27. Syria is followed by Afghanistan, with about 2.5 million refugees.

Syria also has the highest number of IDPs, according to the same report, as they reached 6.1 million people, followed by Colombia with 5.8 million IDPs, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with 3.1 million IDPs.

The report highlighted the role that violence and conflict have played in Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central Africa, in increasing rates of internal displacement over the past two years.

In fact, about 41.3 million people were forced to leave their houses at the end of 2018, according to the IOM’s Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC). This is considered a record number since the start of the monitoring in 1998.

Countries most attractive to migrants

The USA is still the top destination for migrants, with nearly 51 million people, according to the report by the IOM, which also showed that more than half of the international migrants (141 million people) live in Europe and North America.

The report also pointed out the important pathways for migration from the poorest countries to wealthier countries, including France, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

The organization expected that this pattern will continue for the upcoming years, “especially since it is expected that the population will increase in some developing sub-regions in future decades, which puts migration pressures on future generations.”

Immigrants are indispensable

The United Nations stresses the role migrants play in developing the global economy. Contrary to what some may think, studies confirm that migrants contribute to raising levels of growth and innovation, and improving social and economic conditions in both countries of asylum and their countries of origin.

The United Nations likens most Western countries to the “time bomb” due to the increase in the number of elderly people and the low birth rates, which makes them in need to rely on migrants to drive and maintain economic growth.

The hosting countries will benefit from the enormous energy, momentum and enthusiasm associated with the endeavors to build the new life that refugees bring with them, and from the diversity that new arrivals will bring to the lives of local residents, which will give them more flexibility.

In this regard, a recent study conducted by Citi Foundation and the Oxford Martin School entitled “Migration and the Economy: Economic Realities, Social Impacts, and Political Choices” confirmed that the major economies in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) would have lost billions during the past years if there were no contributions from immigrants who raised the level of economic growth, innovation, and productivity and contributed to the creation of companies.

For the first time, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the contribution of migration to sustainable development, and among its 17 goals, there are 11 goals for indicators related to migration. The basic principle of the sustainable development agenda revolves around the need to “not abandon anyone”, including migrants.


According to the 1951 Refugee Convention, a refugee “is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, and because of that fear he lacks the ability to be protected by his country or no longer wants to. ”

Asylum seeker

A person who left his country to seek protection from persecution, his application has not yet been processed in order to obtain a safe place to live in, and he is awaiting a decision on his application for asylum, to be officially recognized as a refugee.


Although there is no legally agreed-upon definition, the United Nations defines a migrant as “a person who has resided in a foreign country for more than a year regardless of reasons, whether voluntary or coercive and regardless of the means used for migration, whether regular or irregular.”

Source: United Nations

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