Basima Hawasli, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee, spoke to students and guests Friday about her journey escaping her country’s civil war.
Syria’s war recently entered its sixth year and has forced nearly 5 million refugees to escape the country, the world’s largest refugee crisis according to the United Nations.
Hawasli and her family now live in Austin, but Hawasli said her story of fleeing government crackdowns and a violent war is shared by countless Syrians, pushing the urgency for donations at the United Muslim Relief fundraiser Friday at the Union. The event raised $15,000.
“Before the war we were very happy and comfortable,” Hawasli said. “After the war we had a hard life. I remember it was so hard to live.”
Donations from the fundraiser will provide orphan care, health care, emergency response and food packages to both refugees and trapped Syrians, UMR communications director Aizah Rauf said.
Hawasli said she and her family struggled to find work, food and housing after fleeing to Egypt. In desperation, they paid smugglers to send them to Europe on small, overcrowded boats known to capsize, but they were stopped by Egyptian police last minute.
“(The police) had my mom and my little sister put in jail for around 15 days,” Hawasli said. “They wouldn’t (provide) any food or any water to these people and my sister was in the hospital.”
After months of applying for refugee status in the United States, Hawasli and her family arrived in Austin. Hawasli said she was overwhelmed by the level welcome and sympathy from the city, which provided housing and access to a high school.
“There is so much kindness, we wouldn’t be here today without all their help,” Hawasli said.
Ceren Tomruk, landscape architecture graduate student, said she attended the fundraiser because she was aware of the poverty refugees face in her home
“I’ve seen a lot of Syrian families who live in Turkey and they are poor and live on the streets,” Tomruk said. “Literally families and kids ask for money … it’s really tragic.”
While the fundraiser spreads awareness, last year’s event raising $26,000, Rauf said the Syrian war and its consequences are not discussed enough on campus.
“Our response in Austin has been really strong,” Rauf said. “But in terms of the campus in general and groups on campus, I haven’t been seeing this issue being advocated for too much … I don’t think that too many people mostly even know what’s going on.”