Tasneem and her family did not imagine that they would leave their home until they were left to suffer for days without electricity and water.
“If you managed to survive the explosions, you were lucky to live an extra day, but that does not mean that those explosions did not frighten you to death,” Tasneem started off the conversation.
Despite the fact that bombs and airstrikes had become the new norm in Syria, the people living there never got accustomed to them. Tasneem and her family did not imagine that they would pack and leave their home until they were left to suffer for days without electricity and water, and survival was not guaranteed anymore in a country that turned into a big battle zone. At that point, Tasneem and her family had to face the hurtful truth, of having to forcibly leave their home in Damascus.
In May 2013, they arrived in Egypt seeking international protection and a safe place where explosions and shelling are no longer a part of their daily routine. As of September 2021, Egypt hosts more than 267,000 refugees and asylum seekers registered with UNHCR, of whom 50% are from Syria and who were welcomed with open arms and are respected by society since they started arriving in the country. “I came to Egypt when I was only 11 years old and I consider it the only home I know,” says Tasneem with a smile on her face.
Tasneem’s family used to have a stable financial situation when they were back in Syria; her mother was a housewife and her father used to own a dairy shop, which provided for his children and helped secure their future. After the ongoing war in Syria, their lives turned upside down and making ends meet in Cairo was not that easy for the family; the father rented a shop where he could sell dairy products, yet he is hardly able to cover the family’s basic needs while focusing on investing in his children’s education.
“My father’s life is not as stable as it used to be back in Damascus before the war broke out, but at least we are safe here in Cairo,” says Tasneem, “I wish that one day I can buy him the shop he is renting now,” she adds.
Most refugees in Egypt are vulnerable, as seven out of 10 refugees struggle to meet their basic needs. The situation worsened after the COVID-19 pandemic rubbed salt in the wound of Tasneem’s family, as their monthly income decreased, and it still barely covers the rent of both the shop and the flat they now call home. Transportation expenses and university fees are another challenge the family is currently facing as Tasneem is studying fine arts in Alexandria, where she resides and shares rent with other Syrian girls during university days, while her elder brother had to drop out of the private university he was enrolled in because his father could not afford the fees.
“After war broke out in Syria, I had always dreamed that the day would come for me to be back and rebuild my country. But before I do that, I want to repay Egypt and Egyptians for our safety and the hospitality we have been met with,” says Tasneem while remembering her grandfather who had recently passed away and was buried in Egypt. “It is just another reason for me to feel Egypt is my second home,” she adds.
Tasneem is now enrolled in a vocational training programme in hopes of becoming a part-time dental assistant, to be able to save money for her expenses so that she can take the load off her father’s shoulders. With support from UNHCR and its NGO partners, the family receives education grants for the younger siblings, as well as food vouchers from the World Food Programme (WFP).