Emigrants die young – or become heroes


This quotation was taken from an interview Rafik Shamir gave to the German language magazine „Stern“ on September 26th 2004.


Rafik Shami was born to a Christian Aramean family in Damascus. 1970 he fled his home, first to Lebanon and later to Germany. To protect his family, which still lives in Syria, he lives with the alias, which means „Friend of the Damascenes“.

Most of his numerous novels and stories have a second story hidden behind the main one. About his love for Syria and Damascus, places he probably never can return to.

Today he is one of the most successful German language writers. His readings are based on the old Syrian culture of telling fairy tales to entertain people. Tales of the 1001 nights….



„Emigrants die young – or become heroes. “To look at retrospectivily it contains a prophetic notion.

When in 2011 Syria became part of the wave of violence, belittled „Arabic Spring“, which flood over the Arabic world, each and every democratic structure, political opposition and ratio fell apart. Only violence and hate misgoverned the country. One fifth of the population is fleeing, more then 4.7 millions persons.

All too often, they lost everything, before they left. They are fleeing alone or in groups. In the meantime not only chased by Assads’ government troops but also, especially if they are Christians or Yezidis, by the slaughterers of Daesh (IS). Their first destination is Turkey; some of them stay there to start a new life. Turkey does not like them, they are not welcome! They try to find a smuggler, who offers escapes over the Mediterranean. The trips vary in price. For children there is a reduction of 50%, adults pay from € 1.500 to € 2.000. The second destination is Greece, the gateway to the EU.

For more than 3.000 people the voyage over the Mediterranean became a deadly trap. Is this also true for the short trip between Bodrum and one of the Greece islands? Alternatively, is this only true for the much longer route from Northern Africa to Italy?


Last September the French journalist Franck Genauzeau, reporting for France 2 from Jerusalem and his camerawoman took part in one of this insecure trips. For free, as the smuggler was hoping for a positive report. He told them very self-assured „I am the one who makes dreams become true! “.


If the two journalists would not have been on board, it might have been the last journey for those, who had trusted him, 60 people, and the youngest just about two months old.


The picture of the little Syrian child, Aylan Kurdi, whose body was washed ashore at Bodrum, became „famous“worldwide. His father had to face a media shitstorm, how he could have dared to take the risk of a second lam from the more or less secure life in Turkey.

It was the time when the flows of refugees got huger and huger. Good willing states had to realize that they reached a point, where they could not do anything more, but try to administrate the up filing applications from asylum seekers.

Commentaries in the daily press where flooded with discrimination of Israel. „Well-intentioned“ people gathered to balm us, for not taking Syrian refugees into our country. Right, we did not accept Syrian refugees. However, while we had to take poisoning headlines in German languages papers, we did a lot. However, rarely anything made its way into the media.

Last December Aboud Dandachi  launched a website named „Thank You Am Israel“  and dedicated it to stories of Israelis who help Syrian refugees. „There are so many stories that I want to put up.“ he says. “There are new stories of Israelis helping Syrians every day. As far as I am concerned, because we as Syrians cannot give back to Jews what they give to us, so we should at least thank them. “

In September 2013, when Assad had begun using chemical weapons and ISIS had overrun Raqqa, he knew he had to leave. After a two-week stay in Lebanon, Dandachi realized he had traded one conflict zone for another, and moved on to Turkey, where he has since rented an apartment. „I grew up with statements like ‚these people are your enemies. The Jews are evil‘. Today he knows: „Israel is doing exactly what it must do.“ he says. „It is not taking part in the war, but is helping wounded Syrians who need help. In addition, it is not only the government. Israelis are helping Syrian refugees in Jordan, in Greece, Serbia, and North America.

The website offers a broad overview, which support is given to the Syrians by the State of Israel, NGOs and volunteers.

Nothing new for the vigilant reader of the Israeli press, each one is documented there. However, new is the compressed volume of information. This is impressive and shows the full extent of help. Not a single action made is way into the international media!

Since 2013 in the Ziv Medical Center in Sfad, just 40 minutes away from the border with Syria more then 2.000 Syrians, over 340 of them children, were treated.  Maybe it is due to the great reputation of the doctors that the victims of war overcame their panic of the so-called enemy. While amputations are the expected outcome for patients who are treated in Jordan, the Israeli medical teams in Ziv have managed to save all except a very few number of limbs.

The Rambam Hospital in Haifa braced up for the Syrian patients. The worst cases are brought here, after getting first aid in Sfad.  Mohammeds jawbone was destroyed and he lost all his teeth after a hit from a Syrian military jet. Thank to a revolutionary medical procedure and 3D printer technology a new Titanium jawbone was implemented and will be fixed with the surrounding bones within the next months. Three months after his arrival he went home and is determined to come back within the next months to receive his new teeth.



A team of doctors and nurses from the NGO IsraAid, led by Doctor Tali Shaltiel waited for the refugees on their arrival in Lesbos. Freezing, shivering and wet they scrambled ashore, happy to have managed this step of their escape. „Does anyone need a doctor? “ Repeatedly the rescuers asked the refugees in Arabic. The blue Magen David on their shirts proves them Israelis. First, the refugees are worried, how come a Jew has to be the first contact for them in Europe? (They had no clue, that there might be also Muslims and Christians in the team.) „We are here to help you.“ They are calmed. As the group arrived during the night, the teams suggests to stay till the morning, before the group  starts the next stage of their way and provides them with actual helpful maps. Holistic treatment.  Sadly, not every journey over the Mediterranean ends lucky. In the same night, another boat arrived. A little child went over board and died. In the meantime, another team, including social works and psychotherapists took care of those who survived a boat accident in Rhodos, in which 34 passengers, including 15 children had died.

The boat from Lampedusa, an underwater installation by Jason de Caires-Taylor (from the artists webpage)


Emigrants die young – or become heroes. They will happily refrain from both, as long as this minimum basis is conceded to them.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN Resolution 217 (III)


Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made based on the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it is independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.


©esther scheiner, israel


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