“It was like Alice,” said one Syrian refugee. “Alice in Wonderland!”
That is how Nour, who recently escaped the war-torn country with her husband and young son, described the latest journey her family took — a plane ride to Rome with Pope Francis.
On April 16, Francis visited a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, where over half a million refugees — primarily from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq — found refuge in 2015 alone. And the pope did not return home empty-handed. He brought 12 Syrian migrants, including six children, back to Italy with him.
Four of them spoke exclusively with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric in Rome on Thursday. The couples — Nour and Hasan, Suhila and Ramy — asked that their last names not to be reported. They were emotional while opening up about their harrowing journeys out of Syria and how grateful they are to the pope for the new lives they are starting in Rome.
“He’s a very kind man,” said Nour. “He’s a real human being. For me, I appreciate him more than any Islamic leader, or Islamic religious man, or any Arabic leader, because nothing has been done by these men, like him. By Arabic leaders or by Muslim leaders… No one has done the same thing.”
“His actions did not have to do with our skin color or religion,” said Ramy. “And it proves that human beings are brothers with other human beings.”
The four have not seen Francis since their relocation, but they all know what they’d tell him should their paths cross again.
“I will say to him, ‘Thank you.’ Because of him, hope came back,” said Suhila. “We’ve come back to life, and we’re living our lives for those that we lost in Syria.”
Their paths from Syria to Lesbos were long and hard. Nour and Hasan tried to cross the Turkish border three times, by land and sea, before they were finally able to get to Greece on their fourth attempt. “It was difficult for us, full of risks,” said Hasan. Suhila and Ramy got to Greece on a rubber boat that stalled in the middle of the sea for an hour and a half.
“It must be wonderful to be safe,” said Couric. All responded enthusiastically. “No doubt,” Suhila smiled. “God willing, we will adapt to this country. And, most importantly, we will learn Italian!”
“Many European nations say they can’t handle the influx of migrants. What would you say to the leaders and citizens of those countries?” Couric asked.
“I’d like to say to them that we are normal people,” said Nour. “We are not jihadists and we are not terrorists… As Syrian people, we are lovely people. We are friendly people.”