This #InternationalWomensDay and everyday, we celebrate the strength of women who are forcibly displaced.
This #InternationalWomensDay and every day, we celebrate the strength of women who are forcibly displaced. Women and girls make up around 50 per cent of any refugee, internally displaced or stateless population.
We’re inspired by their leadership, courage and their resilience.
Lama was a student in biotechnology engineering at the University of Aleppo, in her hometown, when the war in Syria broke out. When a sniper’s bullet almost took her life, she decided that she had no other option than fleeing, leaving everything behind – her family, studies and friends.
“After two years of continuous bombing, without electricity or water and each day getting harder and more dangerous to go to the university, I decided to leave,” said Lama.
Every day she used to gamble with her life: “There were two streets where I was living – one was the bombing and the other the sniper street and I had to choose every day which one to take to go to university.”
Until one day when she was coming back from the university, she found herself caught up in an attack and a sniper’s bullet missed her face and grazed her cheek. That was the triggering point for her decision to leave.
With one year left to complete her studies, she fled to Qatar with her mother and sister to join her uncle who was working there. But unable to complete her studies she started exploring other options.
She decided to continue her education in Cyprus, at a university in the northern part of the island, following a friend’s advice. “I had a friend who was studying in the north and told me that I could have a chance to continue my studies from the point they were disrupted, not starting from the beginning. Such an opportunity was not available elsewhere – visa and documentation requirements and unaffordable fees were among the requirements in most countries – so the north, which at the time required no visas for Syrians, was an option to complete my studies.”
With the financial support of her family, Lama completed her undergraduate studies in Molecular Biology and Genetics. But without an opportunity to continue her studies or work in the northern part of the island, or travel to another country in a safe and regular manner, she decided to make her way south and apply for asylum.
After wandering for a few days in the government-controlled areas of Nicosia she applied for asylum in October 2017 and was referred to live at the Kofinou Reception Center while her asylum claim was pending.
Life in a remote reception facility for an active young woman like Lama can be very challenging, but she never lost courage and hope. Besides it was through friends and volunteers at the Kofinou Reception Center that she got to meet her future husband.
Lama Swas, 27yrs old, fled the heavy fighting in Syria and became refugee in Cyprus where she met her husband Apostolos and had their daughter, Aurelia. They live in an apartment in the capital, Nicosia. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Lama, is a graduate in Molecular Biology and Genetics and currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Digital Marketing. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Apart from science, her studies and being a doting mother, Lama also loves painting. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
After she got subsidiary protection status Lama left Kofinou in the summer of 2018 to start a new life in Nicosia. She applied for and after a competitive process she got enrolled at a mentorship programe for women’s empowerment run by EY Cyprus, AIPFE Cyprus and Cyprus Institute of Marketing. Through this program, Lama won a scholarship for an MSc in Digital Marketing from the Cyprus Institute of Marketing.
Meanwhile, she had developed the idea of launching a Youtube channel to talk about genetics, biology and science. “On this Youtube channel, I want to be talking about biology and genetics, because I love this subject and I want to influence young people to pursue studies in the field as I had been influenced by my teachers.”
“When I shared this idea with a friend [I had met at the camp], he brought me in touch with Apostolos, a film producer, to help me materialise this idea.” Soon Lama and Apostolos started working on this project and getting to know each other. The project may not have been finalised yet, but Lama and Apostolos fell in love, got married and had adorable Aurelia.
While Cyprus is now her home, Lama feels homesick. “I do miss my family a lot; I haven’t seen them for so many years. My father – the only one still in Syria – my mum and sister in Turkey; a brother in Spain who will be having a baby soon and my other brother in Germany.”
But she remains hopeful that she will meet her family eventually. Meanwhile, she keeps herself busy with studying, working on her YouTube project, volunteering with UNHCR’s Refugee Outreach Volunteer program, and most of all being a caring mother.