Syrian refugee Bahar Nimr worked with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Domiz Camp for three years, before deciding to travel to Europe. Smuggled out in a wooden box to the Danish borders with only dates for sustenance, Nimr (36) recounts her arduous journey from Syria to Europe.
Six years ago, the Syrian Kurd lived with her husband and sons in Damascus, where she worked as an accountant in a private company, earning a decent salary. There, she lived in the care of a loving family, and a kind husband.
But with the outbreak of war in 2011, everything changed. Her husband was arrested for participating in protests against Bashar Al-Assad, and Nimr says “he was tortured to death. After he died, my life was turned upside down, and things became infinitely more complicated. I found myself having to fill in for the father’s role, as well as my own, as well as having to protect my boys and secure food for them on my own. I didn’t have the option of returning to live with my mother, since my brother and his children were already living in her home.”
Finding herself unemployed and struggling to secure sustenance for her family, she decided to leave Damascus in 2012, in search of a sense of security. Her family agreed to join her on her trip to Domiz Refugee Camp in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Life in Domiz Camp
Nimr quickly found a job with MSF, as a consultant to women refugees, providing them with advice on how to care for themselves and their children. Yet she felt increasingly insecure over the three years she spent on the camp. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that there was no future for her on the camp.
“Life on the camp was too difficult. Not for one day did I feel safe. We couldn’t even go to Dahuk [a nearby town in Iraqi Kurdistan], for fear of being harassed by the locals. I was alone and I had to take care of my family, so I decided to leave in search of a safe place. I had no other choice,” she says.
‘I Thought I Wouldn’t Survive’
With her parents’ help, Nimr traveled to Europe, leaving her family behind, with the hope of reuniting with them later on in her journey. She traveled to Istanbul on foot, in a trip that lasted for two days. Finally, she met with a trafficker, who agreed to smuggle her into Europe.
“I didn’t pay for anything; my father took care of all the costs. He wanted to give me the opportunity to search for a better life, with the hope that my family would join me later. And so, I found myself alone with a trafficker I didn’t know. He hid me in a wooden coffin-like box. I couldn’t see a thing; neither the route we took, nor the countries we passed. I was a prisoner in the box,” Nimr recalls.
“The trip took four days, and we only stopped at night to use the toilet and get some air. I ate nothing but some dates and water throughout the trip—just enough to keep me alive. I didn’t expect to survive this death trip. But I had reached a dead end, and so I accepted whatever fate threw my way, in the hope of reaching greener pastures.”
After traveling through various European countries by car, Nimr was eventually allowed out of the wooden box, to find herself on the border between Germany and Denmark. She took a bus with a group of Syrians and Iraqis to the nearest Danish town, where they turned themselves in to the local authorities.
Struck by conflicting emotions, Nimr says she was at once “glad to have met others like her, who had risked their lives to flee from Syria and Iraq, and fearful that the local authorities would send her back to square one”.
After spending seven months in a refugee camp in Denmark, Nimr finally obtained an asylum permit. But her jubilation would be short-lived, as she would soon learn that Danish asylum laws would not permit her to sponsor her dependents for another three years.
“To spend three years separated from my sons… the thought is unbearable. If they refuse to allow me to bring my sons here, I will have to return to Iraq.”
This article was published in cooperation with Médecins Sans Frontières, as part of a series of articles on refugees who escaped the scourge of war in their home countries.