Rema left everything behind in search of safety for herself, her young son and her parents. Being stateless has always been in the way of her dreams, but she is still hopeful she can be secure and independent one day.
Rema Beshtawy, 29, a Palestinian from Syria, has been living in Cyprus as an asylum-seeker for the last two years. A graduate of English Literature who used to work at a nursery school and as a private tutor, Rema fled the war in Syria together with her son, Atif, and her parents in search of safety in Cyprus.
“We lived in safety and stability. My parents used to own a restaurant. We had a good life. But after the war no one felt secure or safe. Kidnapping, theft and killing were part of the daily routine. Inflation and scarcity of basic goods such as water and electricity made living even more difficult,” says Rema.
Rema always dreamed of continuing her studies abroad but even before the crisis, being stateless was an impediment to realising her dreams.
When she felt that there was no end in sight to the Syrian crisis, she took the decision to come to Cyprus with her son and parents. Her brother was already living in Cyprus.
“Syria is so close to Cyprus, and it was safer for me, my son and my parents to come to Cyprus. We came by aeroplane to the north and then crossed to the south,” says Rema. “Besides, Cyprus and Syria have many commonalities – the food, like koupepia and kolokasi; the weather, to name a few,” she adds with a warm, nostalgic smile.
Rema feels safe and reassured about her son’s future in Cyprus. “Atif is eight years old and goes to a public school. He learned Greek quickly and today he speaks like a Cypriot,” Rema says and feels grateful that her son can get free education in Cyprus.
“We are lucky to be entitled for free education and I would like to thank the Ministry of Education for this as well as the teachers for their caring concern and support to my son. My son is happy at school and when he’s happy I’m also happy.”
Rema is learning Greek and enjoys helping her son, Atif, aged 8, with his homework. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Rema Beshtawy, 29, fled Syria in search of safety with her mother Sobeya, her father and her young son. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Atif, aged 8, attends public school in Nicosia and is supported at home by his mother Rema, and his grandmother Sobeya. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
Being stateless has not stopped 29-year-old Rema from hoping and dreaming of a more secure future. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
A graduate of English Literature, Rema has always dreamt of continuing her studies and of one day owning her own house. © UNHCR Cyprus/Sebastian Rich
When Atif is at school, Rema attends Greek classes and works as a volunteer at a consulting company that runs a number of projects supporting the integration of refugees and migrants; these include vocational and language training to help refugees improve their employability, as well as public awareness projects to help Cypriots and refugees learn about each other and from each other. “That gives me the opportunity to acquire knowledge and new skills, expand my network and improve my chances in finding a job at a later stage,” says Rema.
Volunteering gives Rema a sense of normalcy and that’s among the advice she gives to refugees and asylum-seekers she meets through her volunteering work. “When I first arrived two years ago, I was taking part in every seminar and workshop I came across to enable me to integrate in the country. So, when I reach out to refugees, I advise them to do the same: persevere, take part in as many activities as you can; it’s better than to sit and be depressed.”
Rema feels that Cyprus is her home now and her dream is to be able to buy a house one day. But at the moment her priorities are elsewhere: “I’m learning the language and maybe through the language I will find a job, help my son with his homework, my parents… and maybe in the future I will buy a house.”