Fort Wayne Men Retell Their Tales of the Refugee Trail

Near the border of Slovenia and Croatia, Amar Masri watched hundreds of Syrian refugees pour out of buses and into the cornfields.

After the first few buses, Amar noticed a man with his wife and two children, a huge smile on his face.

Chaos ensued once the buses began to leave, the man’s smile vanishing as he ran after, his wife screaming, her two children clinging desperately to her.

Amar thought they had left one of their children on the bus, but the family left their money instead, their only way of traveling to another country, a new home.

“With that particular gentleman, I didn’t know what to do,” Amar said. “But I know I have money in my pocket from home, and I looked at my friend and told him, ‘Officially, I am broke now.’”

Amar gave the man and his family what was left in his wallet, ultimately helping them reach their destination in Sweden.

Amar, born in Palestine and now living in Fort Wayne, was once a refugee himself. Knowing what it’s like, he said he felt something needed to be done.

“I’ve been through that once before. I’ve lost my homeland,” Amar said. “I became homeless overnight, but I was one of the luckier homeless people.”

He accompanied Sam Jarjour, a son of Syrian immigrants, and Caleb Jehl, a Fort Wayne native, on their trip to Europe last September.

Sam, Amar, and Caleb are each members of an informal group called Fort Wayne for Syrian Refugees.

Sam said the goals of the group include both educating the community and even resettling refugees in Fort Wayne.

They have spoken at many venues in Fort Wayne, including IPFW and Saint Francis, presenting the documentary of their trip, “The Flight of the Refugees.”

“They’re good people. They’re hardworking people. They’re fleeing incredible violence and incredible uncertainty in hope of a better life,” Sam said. “I really think it’s my, and our, humanitarian duty to do something to try and help.”

Sam said the trio, along with his cousin Elias Matar, a filmmaker living in Los Angeles, set out to document the massive amount of people fleeing to the refugee trail, helping as they could.

According the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, millions of Syrians continue to flee into neighboring countries and into Europe, due to the outbreak of a civil war in 2011.

“We have this connection to Syria, and we’ve had to sit by and watch the civil war destroy our country, and watch our relatives flee either by leaving the country or being internally displaced,” Sam said. “The huge numbers of people being killed or injured, it just really felt horrible not to be able to do something.”

So the group spent nine days on the refugee trail, starting their journey in Austria and making their way through countries such as Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia.

After renting a van and hiring a cameraman in Vienna, they purchased food, water and blankets at a grocery store for the refugees.

The group first planned to go through Hungary, but the country closed its borders a day before they arrived.

Forced to take a different path, they ended up in Sid, Serbia, where busloads of refugees were being dropped off in a cornfield with no one to guide them.

“These people have to walk between three and five miles that take you out into a field, around the actual frontier, and back into the next country,” Sam said. “Since they didn’t have visas, they had to walk around the borders, and they were allowed to do it in a semi-organized fashion.”

One of the people Sam remembers was a 3-year-old girl named Elma. Sam watched her cross into Serbia, along with a female aid who helped take care of children.

“There’s always this uncertain future. They weren’t free from violence once they hit Europe,” Sam said, his voice cracking a little. “To see Elma like that, with such an uncertain future, was really hard for all of us.”

Sam said Elma safely made it to Sweden.

But for Caleb, one of the most challenging things was wondering what would happen to the refugees.

He said he thought people coming from the Middle East would have basic survival skills, but found they were pretty much exactly like him.

“I think that’s an important thing to remember,” Caleb said. “A difference in religion, culture, or skin color doesn’t really make us all that different in the end.”

Caleb said the group plans to take a trip to the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon in October, to help the refugees in the same way they tried to help the Syrians.

Amar said the refugees in those camps go as far back as three generations.

“Those people are the forgotten people,” Amar said. “They have no identity, no passports. They can’t go anywhere, so they are stuck in those refugee camps.”

As for the family that accidentally left their savings on the bus, Amar stayed in touch with them.

“Through social media we connected, and then all of the sudden they just fell off the face of the earth,” Amar said. “But I’m sure they’ll come back.”

He still has a picture of the man and his two children in his pocket, just in case.

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