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Syrian exile reveals family’s arduous journey to freedom to mark World Refugee Day

ROME: She left Damascus as a young girl, in search of a future with her family and medical treatment for her father.

Today, Douaa Alkoka, 19, lives, works and studies in Camini, a small town in the southern Italian region of Calabria.

After a long and difficult journey from Syria to Lebanon, Alkoka then managed to reach Italy with her family, where she finally found the peace she had been seeking.

“I’ve been in Italy for four years now, but I left my country many years before for various reasons,” she said. “The first was the war, and then for my father’s health problems. In Syria, it was difficult to find a solution, and we had to leave to find a special operation for my father,” Alkoka said at an event organized in Rome by UNHCR, the UN High Commission for Refugees, to mark World Refugee Day on June 20.

“I left Syria as a little girl, when I was nearly nine years old. With my family we went to Lebanon, where we encountered many difficulties. We ended up in a place where they don’t want people like us,” she said without elaborating. “It was just hard, that’s all.”

Alkoka said: “Only after a lot of struggle did we manage to find a room where we could stay. There were seven of us, the place was tiny and we stayed there for three years. Those were the hardest years of my life. We didn’t manage to attend school that often. They treated us badly over there.

“We really had a lot of problems, and my father was really sick. At some point, I don’t know how we found out that we could do my father’s operation in Italy. They called us to come here in Italy,” she said. 

“When the family learned the news that we could go to Italy, we felt sad and happy at the same time. We were happy for my father, because it’s difficult to see a father who is ill without being able to do anything about it. But we were sad because after we had to leave our country we were going really far away, without knowing if we would go back one day.

“When we arrived in Calabria, at the beginning it was difficult because everyone spoke Italian and we didn’t understand what they were saying,” she said.

In Lamezia Terme, the Syrian family met Rosario Zurzolo, president of the Eurocoop Servizi company, who runs a project to provide refugees with accommodation.

“He took us to Camini. At the beginning we weren’t happy. We felt that we were far away from our country, finding ourselves in a place where we didn’t know if we would be OK or not,” she said.

“But when we started to speak Italian, to go to school, we felt happy. We realized we had found a place where people cared about us. We found peace, which we hadn’t had for a long time,” she said.

Now Alkoka is the local representative of the Pro Loco tourist information office in Camini and is finding time to continue her studiesm — something that had been impossible both in Syria and Lebanon.

“I am happy to have come to Italy, above all to Camini. People are special here,” she said.​

For the World Refugee Day, UNHCR launched a free app, Workeen, to help migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers find work.

The app provides a checklist of documents needed to work in the host country, including ID card, language certification, work experience certification and previous education, and is available in Italian, English, Arabic and Farsi, as well as other European languages.

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