GENTLE YOUNG SYRIAN, ABANDONED
Basel is a gentle young Syrian man living in exile in Lebanon. Self taught in English, he had to leave Syria in 2015 after being kidnapped and tortured for a week – swept up in the civil war that would soon claim his mother’s life.
In his early twenties, he found his faith in the church. Rejected both by the wider Lebanese society and his own people – for the sin of converting to Christianity – he is so underpaid he sleeps under the staircase of a store. He needs our help.
Profile: Syrian refugee in Lebanon
Risks: Religious persecution in Lebanon, worse in Syria
Advantages: Sponsorship by an SAH, full funding
Basel (on the far right of the picture below) grew up in a village of in eastern Syria. His father worked as a technician in a blood laboratory and his mother was a housewife. They lived comfortably, supporting a large family of 9 children.
“We had a big family, with five sisters and four brothers and we enjoyed a good and peaceful life.”
As a child, he struggled learning to read and write and his brother made fun of him, telling him he would be ignorant for the rest of his life if he didn’t commit to his education. This spurred Basel on to apply himself to his schoolwork. While in Grade 7, he discovered a love for the English language – including reading and translation.
He pursued his studies under the darkening clouds of war. By 2011, the street protests against the government had turned into civil conflict as the Syrian army started to target the Free Army with bombs and shells.
In 2013, Basel moved to Damascus to study English literature at university. He lived there with his uncle and brother. Life in Damascus was also dangerous. Mortar shells fell on streets, houses – nowhere was safe. He lived in a constant state of fear.
The fear grew acute each time he passed a Syrian army checkpoint. Every Syrian citizen was required to carry their identification with them. And Basel’s ID card attested to the fact that he was from a city considered to be against the regime.
This fact alone dramatically increased his chances of being arrested and detained. He was keenly aware that tens of thousands of Syrian men have disappeared and perished in prisons. He didn’t want to become one of them.
His neighbourhood in Damascus was mostly Christian and Basel became interested in the Christian faith. But he never attended church because he was afraid of how his family would react. He knew his parents – who had always forced him to pray at the mosque – would consider him an apostate who had committed the unpardonable sin of converting to Christianity – a sin punishable by death.
In March 2015, trouble struck. A group of uniformed men with ties to the Syrian regime forced their way into his home and kidnapped Basel. They took him to a security centre in a suburb of Damascus. For a week he was left hungry and alone in a dark room.
“They withheld food and water and interrogated and tortured me – kicking, and punching my face. I was very afraid they would kill me.”
Only when his parents agreed to pay a ransom was he set free. He left detention in a very bad physical and psychological state – angry about what happened and fearful about what the future might hold.
The danger increased daily as bombings became more common and living in Damascus became more precarious. Basel was increasingly drawn to Christianity but ongoing persecution of Christians in Syria made it even more difficult to express this. He felt forced to make the painful decision to leave Syria and live in Lebanon.
In July 2015, he took a taxi to the border between Syria and Lebanon – the whole time terrified of being stopped and arrested.
Once safe across the border, the taxi continued on to Lebanon, to a city south of Beirut. There, Basel found his cousin and stayed with him in a refugee camp where most of the residents were Palestinian Christians. Basel survived by doing any work he could find, including cleaning and construction.
One consolation was his friendship with a Palestinian couple there, with whom he could share his love of the Christian faith. Basel was reading the Bible regularly and he saw the church as a place of peace and refuge.
“It was a relief to talk about my faith with people who shared it. I could never do so with my family, who knew that I did not feel at home in Islam.”
Changes of Fortune
In 2016, Basel received devastating news from home. The war had reached his home town and their family home had been destroyed in heavy shelling. His mother – an innocent victim of that conflict – lost her life.
In April 2017, his luck turned briefly for the better when he moved to Beirut. For seven glorious months, he had a job he loved as a manager of a computer store.
But when police discovered he was Syrian, he was fired. He returned to the city south of Beirut.
On April 1, 2018, Basel moved to another town north of Beirut, where he still lives today.
It is illegal for Syrians to work in Lebanon, and Basel takes whatever job he can find. Currently that means cleaning houses, which earns him about $150 to $200 each month. He lives in a store where he pays $100 a month in rent, in order to live under the stairs. The store is so cold, he is always getting sick. His monthly food bill takes the rest of his earnings.
Although he left Syria looking for a better life, a better life has not come about for Basel. Like most Syrian refugees, he has felt the bitter sting of racism in Lebanon due to his nationality. There is no possibility of gaining an education, a livelihood, a community or citizenship.
A continuing source of comfort has been his Christian faith. In August 2018, he began to regularly attend a church in his neighbourhood. One visit led to the next, and he even made the risky decision to take part in an evangelical conference in 2019: a positive experience.
“I still live in a state of loneliness and alienation, both as a Christian and as a Syrian refugee living in a country that is hostile to Syrians.”
Basel dreams of being a doctor or following in his father’s footsteps as a laboratory science technologist in the future. He dreams of completing his education and being able to attend church services without worrying about his safety.
GREAT NEWS: We have had the amazing good fortune of finding full funding and an SAH spot to bring Basel to Canada. All we need is people to join the settlement team. If you're interested in helping bring him to Canada – please contact his Toronto friends, volunteers Ruth Bromstein or Stephen Watt.
Reach out and discover how wonderful it is to privately sponsor a good person to start a new life – with your help – in Canada!