Tough choices separate Syrian refugee family stranded on the route towards Europe

Refusing to risk her life, 20 years old Syrian Hiba Jnaid opted not to board a small and overcrowded rubber boat — a decision that got her stranded in the Balkans, while her husband reached Germany

UNICEF MK
20 years old Syrian refugee Hiba Jnaid looks worried while explaining how her family got separated
UNICEF/2016/Dimishkovski
16 July 2018

Imagine you have to cross a rough sea on a small overcrowded rubber boat. Now, imagine that you are pregnant, fleeing war and that the rubber boat is the only solution being offered to you. Facing this choice was a tough challenge for 20 years old Syrian Hiba Jnaid. She rejected it and opted for a later, bigger and safer vessel, along with her mother and 14 years old brother.

But it was exactly this decision that separated Hiba from her husband on their journey to Germany. He took the risk and luckily made it safely to the Greek shores. He also eventually reached Germany, before the border closure on the so called Balkan route. Hiba and the rest of the Jnaib family arrived in the Balkans a bit too late.

“We paid $600 [€540 euro] per person to go from Syria to Turkey. We went through many mountains and rivers to reach Izmir. We have travelled with smugglers. And there, in Izmir we got separated, because we didn’t wanted to take the risk and travel in the small rubber boats,” she explains.

They had to wait and in the end needed to pay $1,500 [€1350] per person to make the sea crossing on a larger boat. By the time they started their trip across the Aegean Sea, her husband had reached a small town near Dortmund in Germany, where members of their family — including her father — were already living.

In March, as a consequence of the EU-Turkey deal, the Balkan route was closed, leaving thousands of people stranded at border points and in transit centres. Hiba Jnaib is one of hundreds stranded in Tabanovce, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Her situation was further complicated by the fact that she was 7 months pregnant.

Risking it all to be reunited with her husband and father

Hiba spent a month in the Tabanovce transit centre, before giving birth to a healthy baby boy called Sham Farekh in April. She is in constant contact with her husband, but he is not in a position to come and visit his newborn baby boy.

“We have tried to continue our trip and reunite with him several times. On a few occasions, the Serbian authorities returned us from the border. One time, we managed to reach Preshevo, in Serbia, but we were returned from there too,” Jnaib says.

Despite being thankful, as Hiba says, “for all the support that we received from UNICEF and all other organizations working here,” she and her mother don’t see any other option, than trying to continue their journey.

“We are aware of the risks. But for us the choice is simple. It is intolerable to be in this situation,” she explains. “We didn’t start our trip to end up here. We only wanted to transit this place.”

When the borders closed, the centre in Tabanovce had to go from a transit to an accommodation site overnight. UNICEF and partners needed to quickly adapt the programmes to meet the new needs of women and children.

Hygiene and nutrition services for infants and young children, activities in the child-friendly space were all adapted. Selected areas in the UNICEF supported child-friendly space have also been used as temporary accommodation for the most vulnerable women and children. Hiba is one of the few women who have been sheltered and supported.

“All I wish for is for my son to be healthy and safe. I don’t know what he will choose to be later in his life, but I hope that he won’t have to go through the same suffering that we went through,” Hiba told us.

Support means a lot, but nothing can replace family

Hiba gave birth in the hospital in the nearby city of Kumanovo on 7th of April 2016. She was tremendously surprised by the good treatment and the support that she received from the personal at the hospital.

“When they heard that we are going back to Tabanovce transit centre, some of them wanted offered their homes for us to stay. They were crying when we left the hospital. We were crying too,” she recalls.

Hiba spends most of her time in the special facility created for mothers with babies in the UNICEF supported child-friendly space. There she can breastfed her baby, change diapers and get all necessities to ensure that Sham is clean, safe, well fed and healthy.

“The birth of my baby made life here more tolerable, because it preoccupies us. We spend most of our time devoted to my son — my first baby. But my heart is with my husband. We want to spend these beautiful times with our new baby together,” she says. “That is my biggest wish, for us to be together again as soon as possible.”

20 years old Hiba proudly shows off her infant baby boy, sitting next to her mother in the Tabanovce refugee and migrant centre
UNICEF/2016/Dimishkovski

UNICEF’s response is generously supported by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), the governments of Japan, Germany and the United Kingdom, UNICEF’s National Committees, individuals and corporate and private partners.