Arriving only four days ago, Brazil is still a very foreign place for George Hazim. While Brazil has many issues of its own, it does not compare to the situation he has just left. Living in the middle of a civil war in Syria, he was eligible for mandatory military service, a reality not to be taken lightly. Now in Brazil, George is certain when he says he does not see himself going back to Syria, and instead will make Brazil his new home.
However, getting to São Paulo was just the beginning of this journey. When we began to speak of places to go visit in his new country, George replied, “For now I’m thinking about my permanent visa then I will think about going to the sea or going to swim. For now I am very stressed about the subject, because if there is even a 1% change of going back to Syria….well like I said I do not see myself back in Syria.”
He began to recall the situation back home, saying he cannot go back for many reasons which one day he will tell me, yet now he preferred to keep to himself. “Now I can’t tell. I have personal reasons for not going back. The situation there is not good at all.” He went on to explain the harsh reality of the military, “I am very worried because there the military service is forcing service. You have to go. If you do not they will come to your house and take you from inside. When I went back to Syria I saw those kinds of kidnappings, that’s why I asked to leave.”
Yet now he is safe in Brazil, and is planning on building his life here. When I asked his aspirations for Brazil, he said he did not have many yet, with his mind still focused on the essentials. “It’s not good situation at all. For now I am trying to get a job because now all my worries are about my parents over there. It’s a safe area where they’re living in Syria, but there is no safe in Syria. Even the safe areas are not safe. They are protected by criminals. They are not terrorists but they are criminals.”
His main focus is his family. “I want to find a job here in Brazil, and step by step I hope to make money to bring my family here as well. I will not go there [Syria] but I told them I will work here to make some money and bring them here. For now I can’t do anything for them.” George is hoping to find another job as a chef, and told me how cooking is his true passion. A big smile spread across his face as he told me of the dinner he was planning as a thank you to Humanitas360 President, Patrícia Marino, who helped coordinate and make sure he got safely out of Syria and to Brazil. “When I go inside the kitchen I can find my soul. I can say it like this. Unfortunately it is only for two days, but that is ok.”
George is committed to his new life, I have no doubt in time he will find his place in Brazil, a place full of warm and friendly people who will welcome you in with open arms. Brazil has a long history of welcoming migrants, and Syrians are no exception. Since 2013 Brazil has been granting access to Syrian refugees, taking in more migrants than any other country in Latin America.
“I love Brazil since I was a little boy and being in Brazil is very important to me.” Besides the challenge of learning a new language, he says his only difficulty has been the traffic and roads, a comment I believe just about anyone who has been to São Paulo, especially its citizens, can sympathize with.
When asked about the experience of helping the young Syrian, Patrícia said, “For me a worldwide humanitarian crisis gained a face. It started with a Whatsapp chat, a couple of emails and the voice of a young chef asking for help. His life would have been wasted and the possibility to rescue his family would have been spoiled had I not done what I did. I believe that this far away humanitarian crisis became mine, became a call to action, once it became tangible and materialized to me into George’s endangered life.”
Today is international migration day, and for this we celebrate George’s safe arrival in Brazil. He is a refugee, yes, but how many migration movements have occurred before because of situations’ such as what George was facing. On this day we must acknowledge the reasons so many people leave their homes looking for a brighter future, as this is something that cannot be forgotten while we strive to build a better future for humanity. But we must also celebrate this day for its impact: bringing together new cultures and ideas, and creating a connected, tolerant world able to transcend borders. Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, safety and a better future. It is part of the social fabric, part of our very make-up as a human family. Migrants are fresh workforce for many economies and behind major social changes for many countries. Migrants are eventually becoming citizens enjoying the right to express their rights including the one to vote. As citizens they could be empowered as much as the others. When people migrate they bring with them a part of their world, and there are endless possibilities of the gifts and talents coming with them. These exchanges can bring delightful surprises as it has done with George, gifting Brazil with a talented new chef.