tv After Words with Melissa Fleming CSPAN February 12, 2017 9:00pm-9:52pm EST
>> host: you have made your mark by telling the stories of refuges through short, impactful comments. you have decided to move from the short story to a long narrative. what prompted you to take this decision? >> guest: great to see you again, michelle. i am in charge of communications. my job is actually to get people to understand who are the people who are fleeing for their lives and not just put out facts. there is a saying that statistics are human beings with the tears dried off and i believe that. if you just tell people about the poor masses fleeing you might evoke fear. you don't evoke sympathy you would like.
individual stories have a lot of power. i found this particular story to be so remarkable. every single refuge story is remarkable but this one is quite remarkable. slee and her story represent the millions of syrian refuges on the run. >> host: the book starts with live in syria before the event. the family modest, a young lady, has a modest life full of hopes. what happened? she lives where the whole thing started in syria. how did things develop to the poipt where they felt they had to leave? >> this is 2011 and the arabs i arabspri -- arab spring is happening. they are living under a repressive regime but they have
homes, lives, health care, going about day to day life. this family wasn't politically active. they are caught up in this excitement about -- well, actually the other countries around us are changing maybe thinks could change here and demonstrations are starting in the street. and doa, who is then 16 years old is inspired to go out and see what is happening and she witnesses peaceful protesters are shot at and she is shocked and transformed by this. this soon develops into a terrible spark that brings about a conflict that we all know six years later we know about. her neighborhood starts becoming a war zone. people she knows are killed for going out and expressing their opinions. others are, you know, jailed. there are stories of young women
who are kidnapped and raped. her father, who owned a thriving barber shop, it turned out to be in the middle of the war zone. he showed up one day and it was completely destroyed. he tried to cut one last customer's hair and then a tank rolled by and that was the end. they just realized no livelihood anymore, danger everywhere they looked and the girls were in danger so the family made the decision, like so many others, we just can't stay here. we have to leave the country and cross the borders and in their case they went to egypt. >> these are difficult decisions to make. there is a moment thasz that is impacting in the book. they are in the car and the father tells the family i want you to take me out and the son says if you take me out you kill my soul and he said no, if i take you out i save your soul and it represents the conflict people have leaving.
>> i always try to put myself in a refuge's position. i don't think we realize what value there is in home and community until it is just torn away from you. you know, the identity with your hometown, country, and doa felt very linked to her country. as they drove over the border, she looked across her solder and felt she saw her country behind her crying. she just yearned for the day she could go back and hoped it would just be temporary. >> i was very impacted by the father's decision to move them out because he feared for this girl and particularly the risk they would be abused. this is a story i heard many times in jordan as sexual harassment and violence was one factor deciding people to move
out. quite a dramatic reason to leave. >> i think so. i think any father, one of their worst nightmares is the idea that someone would attack your daughter. this is a very, you know -- syria is a very proud community and the community is also very religious. the honor of the women and the girls is extremely important. in those societies, when there is war, of course, that becomes a weapon of war and a powerful weapon of war. you know you can destroy a family if you rape one of the female family members. it is a big threat that hovers above. it is a powerful, ugly, nasty tool. the threat of this was too much for doa's father and he needed to protect his girls. his girls didn't want to leave.
doa in particular wanted to stay, felt impassioned about fighting for a better syria. but she left with her family. she was only 16. she didn't have a choice. so they ended up in egypt. >> host: one thing is to take the decision to leave and the other is practically how you do you leave. it is not so easy to leave. you need money, you need to pass security checks. they didn't make it easy out of the country. >> no, no. certainly the ruling, the governments didn't want to make it easy for people to leave. very often you would have to pay bribes. many people resorted to smugglers to find different ways out. when doa and her family left it was still early on in the war and it was relatively easy to leave. now, it is almost impossible to
get out of the country. the neighboring countries feel like with five million refuge as they have taken in so many. they have legitimate security fears but very difficult, if not impossible, to cross those same borders that doa crossed in 2012 today six years in the war. >> host: eventually they leave. they make it to jordan and decide to go to egypt. there they will stay for about three years. life as a refuge goes through very distinct phases. can you comment on the changes that occurred. >> guest: i wanted to use this as an example also. egypt, at the time, was a very welcoming country. led my mohammed morsi who was muslim brotherhood and felt links to the syrian refuges who felt forced to flee the syrian opposition and welcomed syrians
with open arms. when they got off the ferry in egypt, every time thaw saw san official they expected them to be menacing but instead you are brother and sister, you don't need to pay. they felt when they arrived at the town they had a connection where they ended up on the coast near alexandria. not only the syrian refuge community already there came out to welcome them but so did the egyptian community and provided donations. they felt welcomed. but things changed politically and there was a new coop. there were statements made on the television channels and the people who used to nod and smile at them when they walked down along the coast in the afternoon
started averting their eye and giving them cold stares. it felt hostile -- the environment. it was not only difficult because there was little money but they no longer felt welcome. >> host: leadership just conditions public opinion and the terms of how the population will react to refuge and public shaming. egypt was dramatic. >> see see this all around the world. we have an international refuge c convention and the countries say refuges have a right to seek asylum and those countries are obliged to they can them in under international law. doesn't mean it necessarily happens that way. there are countries like egypt and many of the countries who did sign the refuge convention but were very generous and
adhered to it. but it does very often, unfortunately, human beings who are vulnerable, who are in need, who have lost everything, are often becoming targets of -- explo exploited for political campaigning. people are afraid of the fore n foreigners and using them generates easy vote. we see this happening unfortunately. it is the wrong thing to do and incorrect under international law. >> host: i agree. that brings them the difficulties to reach the second decision. do we stay? in the meantime, she found a fiance so some of the misery of her life was sort of lightened. they come to make this very difficult decision, a second
choice of we move or we don't. the family wasn't in agreement. how did they process that? >> there is a big love story in the book. in the refuge experience, that is one thing i see. when you are stripped of everything, the most important thing is love. it is the love of the family, the people and this love story that takes place in egypt, doa falls in love with -- she resists him for a long time but finally he wins her over and convinces her that this is no life. they were living a growling existence. she wasn't going to school. she had to work. she had health problems. she was working in a coal factory, the barber shop. and then they were getting facebook posts from friends of theirs who were in europe posing next to bridge in amsterdam or
on the streets of munich. it seemed not just like a dream but that it could be a possible reality. there could be a place that is not just peaceful but where they would be welcomed and could restart their lives. unfortunately, the smugglers who are notorious, evil businessmen are exploiting those dreams of many young people and advertising the safe, almost cruise-like boat that will take you to europe where you can start your new lime. and blossom believed that and convinced doa to give up their lifesavings and put their lives in the hands of these smugglers and make their way across the mediterranean. >> host: there we reached the
most haunting pages in the novel. if you tried to write a tragic novel you would not have gotten close to where you book brings us. the move is dramatic and what happens at sea is horrendous. while they were in syria, even if things were horrible, they were at least saying we fight or protest for something. but in the hands of the smuggler, you only have despair. nothing else transpires from the whole two chapters in your book that tell about their attempt to reach europe. >> guest: yeah, you have lost completely your control. when they finally made it on to this boat, and doa had this mortal fear of the water. at age six, she had a near-drowning experience and vowed never to go near the water. she never learned to swim. their love was strong and he
convinced her and they ended up on the boat. they didn't believe it would be a beautiful cruise ship but didn't imagine it would be as e decrepid and crowded. they were crammed shoulder to shoulder. luckily they got a seat above-deck. they were four days in this water on this boat. it was nasty. t people getting sick and children crying and, you know, really not being treated well. but, you know, by the end of day four they felt like they were making progress. they asked the captain how much longer until we reach italy and the' catan said 17 hours and you will be in ateally. they all started singing and there was a lot of solidarity on the boat. they were in the same boat but
were going to a better place. they held out because they knew, you know, they just needed to suffer a little while longer and then their life would be better. >> host: then, of course, the boat is ran down by pirates and the whole dream breaks within minutes. then we have this really haunting scenes of how people drowned one by one and those who survived how they tried to help each other with their strength going away. she spends four days at sea. >> guest: four days at sea and we will never know why these evil men approached them in another boat, yelling, let the fish eat your flesh hurling locks and pieced of wood at them and intentionally ramming the side of the boat so that the hole sprung the boat and it started sinking.
the people below deck were immediately doomed. they fly in the water and she saw children being cut up in the propeller. blossom found this child floating ring, the kind we have for our toddlers in swimming pools and calm seas. she climbs on this floating ring. her arms and legs dangling over the side and he treads water next to her. initially all are only about a hundred survivors. by the second day, more and more people are drowning. even seeing men intentionally taking our they have life vest and sink into the sea. it wasn't they were drowning but they had lost all their family members and they couldn't take it. she kept -- there is this dialogue back and forth between her and bossom and she sees him
becoming weaker and weaker. a grandfather comes up to her with a six week old baby and he said please, take my family. i lost 27 members of my family. they fled gaza and i am not going to survive. and doa takes the child on her breast and heart. soon after blossom gets weaker and weaker and she had the watch as the love of her life drowned before her eyes. she said this to me -- she would have probably given up herself and would have drowned and gone with him but for the baby and then there was another child. another child, a mother, this was on day three. she met this child on the boat
and had interactions with the family. the mother saw doa with the baby. she just lost her older sister and she and her husband were on the verge of death and she handed over masa, who was 18 months ol, to doa and asked her to do what she could to help her survive. doa did everything she could. she sang to them, recited words from the koran. they had no food and water and were freezing at night. she did everything she could to give them strength and warmth and to keep her will to carry on. four days and four nights and only 11 survivors left when she finally saw an airplane in the sky and got hope again. then a merchant vessel, as we
have seen in many occasions in the mediterranean sea. it is not search and rescue. nobody was searching for these people. but a merchant vessel got an alarm. that plane saw them and they were almost giving up because they only saw corpses around and heard a faint woman's voice crying in the distance and searched for two hours and finally found her and pulled doa and masa and malik up in the boat and doa and masa survived but unfortunately little malik died. >> host: it is remarkable the merchant ships who are not trained, have constraints of money and time, do go rescue these people and they are unsung heroes and make up for the cynicism of the smugglers who
pretend to be sailors to maximize profits. >> guest: exactly. i was in touch with the captain and one of the rescuers. he said that he just got his raidy -- radio. they were a chemical tanker. they said you have to go to this location there has been a shipwreck. they didn't hesitate. when they got there another merchant vessel had been there and radioed and said give up there are only corpses there. and the captain said i can't give up and i need to make sure there are no survivors. there was a storm brewing. the waves were coming and it was getting dark. he sent mismen on -- his men on the lifeboat and as soon as they heard the voice they were not giving up. they are true, unrecognized heroes of the sea.
>> host: many years ago an award was given to the norwegian captain who rescued people out at sea and he represented all of the captains who forget about their safety to rescue others >> guest: absolutely. they all need to be recognized. >> host: that brings doa to crete. before we discuss the rest of the story i would like to talk about a few things coming on and off. many times you raise how she fought with what her identity was. and identity is rooting in your work, community and in the place you live. when you lose all that overnight, you have to fight a little way. i think she found it back when she saves the baby and gets back a sense of who she is. how the faith supported her.
i was wondering, people in europe, they come when we know they cannot buy the plane ticket that would cost a fraction of what they had to pay the smugglers and they had to put themselves in the hands of smugglers and they keep on doing it today despite the horrific. where does that bring us? >> guest: i think the syria situation is a good one to look at. we have over 60 million displaced people in the world today and that is the greatest number since world war ii. we have mass numbers of people in need. but most of those people are in the neighboring countries around the con flict and most of the rich recall world likes it that way. -- richer. they provide only the bare
minimum of assistance and support. almost as if all these people need is food and shelter but beyond that they are not -- they don't look at the human spirit. human beings need to nurture their mind, they need to think about a future. all of us do. we don't want to be stuck in limbo in a tent or dilapidated apartment for years while the war that i had nothing to do with drove me from my home and the world has not found a way to stop is raging on and i am stuck this way. there has been far too little investment in refuges. it is not right from a human rights perspective but i think it is stupid frankly. because, for example, in the syria situation young people like doa and many others, only 50% of the children are in school. these children want to go to school. but they are also, it is not
just they want to and should be in school, these children are the future of syria. these children are the future of is syria going to be a peaceful place and are they going to be the engineers, the politicians, the mayors or are they going to be the people that perput -- perpetuate the cycle. the people who then feel like i have no other choice are driven to risk their lives one more time because they thing places like europe will offer them an education, will offer them a chance to rebuild their lives, and in fact, many of them do. >> host: we should move from this concept that refuges should get our charity and look at it as an investment in the world
and they deserve it more than any other. a few months ago you gave a strong ted talk where you said we must have refuges not survive but to thrive. i think this is what you mean. >> guest: exactly. they should not just be la languishing in refuge camps waiting to return home. the average time in some of these camps can be 17 years. why couldn't we be investing in a population that represents the future of a very troubled country and region that hack actually the world cares about in other ways. they are sending diplomats and armies and other forms of int intervention and thinking it is okay refunthese refuges are jus
parked. it lacks foresight. >> host: a huge movement in europe which became visible when this little baby died on the beach. before that, everybody ignored it. it has been welcomed at the beginning but it is changed into the situation that the refuges are an coming -- economic burden. there is a reason to avoid the negative and unjustified explanations. >> guest: oh, yeah. the welcome in europe was something absolutely wonderful. but i think everybody realized this is not going to be long-lasting. one of the biggest problems is europe didn't manage the large number of people coming in well. when populations feel like
things are out of control they become afraid and you had politicians exploiting these fears and distorting the narrative about why and who was coming. instead of these being refuges from syria and iraq, the majority whom were women and children which is true, they were economic migrants coming to steal our jobs, men who were cowards not fighting back home and the list goes on. it was absolutely shocking to see how irresponsible it was. then it become -- it started in hungary and spread all across europe and that walls started coming up. a kind of darkness fell in terms of compassion lost out over fear. >> and we heard, of course, some of the sam language being used
in the united states. a country that was spearhead of humanitarian work and open arms for refuges. i hope this is just a temporary moment we are living and we will be able to recover some of the u.s. life on this issue. if that life goes there is not much left in the world. >> guest: it is true. you know this from refuge international your organization. the u.s. was always the beacon for refuge protection, always the biggest donor but always took in a fair share of refuges through resettlement programs and found that refuges were enriching the fabric of american society. when you come here as a resettled refuge, you are pretty much given a little stipend and you are kind of on your own. wonderful volunteers from the
community help people get on their feet, find jobs, learn the language and the system has been working very well. any threat to build on the fears of people to shut that down would be a tremendous shame. >> host: what doa has gone through in egypt which is the change in the society we have seen the same in turkey, jordan and lebanon. every country has a problem at one point. i sometimes show maps with refuge concentration when i want to argue resettlement. refuges around the world, the west doesn't appear on the map because the numbers we take remain so small. >> yet the media would have you believe, and the leaders, that all the refuges are coming to europe or the united states. that is not the case. what is true is most of the refuges are in countries like jordan and turkey and lebanon
and kenya. these countries are not being supported enough. they are expected to have the same infrastructure in their communities and water systems, schools, hospitals, and you know without much support. the organizations that work to help refuges like yours and like mine are constantly under funded. that is just frankly it is not right. >> host: do you think by taking so few refuges, not offering more resettlement and i am talking for the european countries as much as i talk about the u.s., that we do make the game of smugglers at the end? we do maintain the criminal industry because the only alternative for these people who are desperate in finding no comfort in the country that received them? >> guest: absolutely. it is in a way.
i think the people smuggling business has become one of the biggest gangster, high profit markets in the world. and the only way to shut it down is law enforcement has not been very successful although there have been some good attempts and have been some arrests in countries where -- but frankly it is a thriving business and exploiting people for high profits and killing people also. the numbers of people who died in the mediterranean sea last year were 4,000 people. we don't even know -- probably only very few of their names. many of them we may not even know about. the numbers might be much higher. those smugglers are responsible for those deaths. they put them on overcrowded rickety boats and earned a fortune on their souls.
there is no justice. if people are not given an alternative this is going to go on. >> host: when doa left in 2014, the trips were shorter but in 2015 they moved from turkey to greece a shorter trip. after the europeans closed completely that path, they are back now in moving toward egypt and libya. though the numbers reaching europe the number of people that are dying have gone up. we are far from addressing the humanitarian issues in the region. >> guest: closing borders doesn't solve the problem. stopping wars solves the problem. >> host: in greece, i went to one of the camps. a lot of families that would be
set back to syria or turkey. the smugglers are already looking at eternity. >> they absolutely are. many more are stuck in greece who are penniless and very despairing of what is next. >> host: doa worked well in that she managed -- because she described what happened to her. her family is probably getting trapped in egypt. >> guest: you can imagine the media attention when the press
learned that there was a rescue and a young 19-year-old woman and a small 18 month old baby who spent four days on the water and managed to survive when five others had died. the little girl, masa, was taken the the pediatric hospital on crete and the doctors thought she was on the edge of death. you know, she is not going to pull through. if she does, maybe brain damage. i can say if there is a place you want to be with that condition it is greece. they had amazing medical care and showered her with love. that little girl pulled through and the entire population of greece wanted to adopt her and doa is recovering in another hospital meanwhile.
she is getting messages from all over like have you seen my brother and then a message came from the little girl's uncle and it said doa, i think you saved my niece and he attached a photograph. the uncle made it a year before with masa's older sister to sweden. same route. his family was following. he was able to take her to sweden and she is living with him. doa, the press attention to her made its way to egypt, and those smugglers starting showing up at her mother's door and saying i know the names of your daughters
and threatening. tell doa to stop talking. it was menacing and scared. doa's sisters were afraid to go to school. unacr, when refuges are vulnerable, they have his mechanisms called resettlement and we were able to make the case that doa wanted to go to sweden and unify with her family. this time last year she boarded a plane from crete and her family from cairo and they ended up reuniting together in a small home in snowy northern sweden where they have found peace, they are learning swedish, the kids are going to school and they restarted their lives. >> host: it is a story that ended up well. how did doa tell the story?
she went through a roller coaster of hope, complete loss, and a little hope again. first, i told the story on the ted stage. she saw the reaction to that and then i told her there was interest in this becoming a book. she is very modest and shy. she doesn't consider herself a hero. on the other hand, i think her mother really helped convince her because i said this is a story that needs to be told because you are a hero. but put that aside because it will help the people of syria. it will help people who don't understand why this awful war
has caused so many people to run for their lives and give up everything. what life is like, the struggle of the refuge, what compels people to take to the dangerous seas and risk their lives again to reach the shores of europe. she wanted to help others, to give them a warning, do not take this journey. it is not worth it. it is a gamble with your life. >> host: people think refuges leave and just want a good life in europe. do you think doa will go back to syria?
>> host: if we knew better who they were we could do so much more. i want to come to the future. the whole syrian crisis, president obama meeting, what we are seeing from countries right now, europe, kenya, here, pakistan is doing the same. among the countries of this world, do we have a determination to try to get a refuge com pact which changes and improves the way we are treating refuges right now? what hopes do you have on this effort? we will all contribute to it, of course, but what we are seeing today in reality in the field is
not extremely positive. >> guest: i do think there is a realization that the system as it is now is not really working. you know? people are suffering. there needs to be, not to rewrite the basis of refuge convention but the build on the weaknesses we saw particularly in the very dramatic last year with the europe refuge crisis. and the numbers of people displaced that we have not seen before. i think there are many people and people in positions of power who do want to see a better system, who do want to see more refuges protected, do want to see more investment. so i am really hopeful that this will go forward. also, i would like to say
sometimes we listen to the loudest voices and the voices of fear and hate. there are large portions of the european society and american society that believe in the principle of helping people in need, particularly people fleeing conflict and war and their country should do their part to contribute. we are seeing more and more individuals doing their part. if you look at canada, which is a wonderful example, sometimes we need the system and the people do the work. they have a system called sponsorship and it is so poplar that if you are an individual or community and you want to sponsor a refuge or refuge family somewhere else you have to am up with a certain amount
of money and commit to help that family for one year. there are so many canadians who signed up for this and are doing it and have not only said they find this so satisfying because they are helping but also because it is enriched their own life. you know? i think we should hold up these examples where people are being compassionate. communities are being compassionate. governments are doing the right thing. and so, you know, the value of making a contribution in this way. >> host: and your book will certainly help in ensuring the truth fate of refuges and the opposite of the person being presented. you are now the senior advisor to the new secretary general, the former high commissioner for refuges. someone both you and i respect tremendously. he has been nominated through the most transparent ever in the
u.n. whereby the best candidate made it to the final line. he was by far the best candidate. that is, i think, good news for the u.n. it breaks a lot of the negative perception the u.n. was serving before. it has also created a tremendous level of expectation on this new secretary general. how as senior advisor do you look at that and in particular how it might affect the follow-up of what happened last year? >> the general assembly chose a man with strong values and i think the world is hungry for a leader with strong values and who will represent the people that need us in the world in the best possible way. he is a tireless advocate for people in need.
not just refuges but we have huge numbers of people living in poverty and suffering from the effects of climate change and he will fight for them. i think it is -- he is probably one of the toughest jobs in the world. but i do think right now there is a movement in the world where people are looking for this kind of leadership that is based on principle, values, based on making the world a better place for humanity and in a world where everything is interconnected and every person matters. >> host: well, i think you are recogni recogni recognized in the work you do and i wish you well in the new position. i want to touch on the issue you raise. the whole question of education has come up repeatedly about
syria and about the lost generation of children. yet, i don't know how many children are being schooled. >> it is only about 50%. it has gotten better. i remember when it was only 20% in lebanon. there have been lots of efforts. it is complicated but education, i think, should be everywhere. it should be one of the biggest investments the world makes. these are our children and our future. but for refuge children, the education can help relieve trauma. you can't imagine what some of these small human beings have seen and witnessed and gone through. they need -- their families at home are also traumatized so having an institution where they can heal and learn and grow is just so crucially important.
again, it is in our own self interest because we have the next leaders of the country once the war stops we are hoping when this syria war stops that unacr and our partners will be doing the things we love to do most and that is to help people return home and help people reconstruct and rebuild. we should be giving them the tools right now. >> host: you know, a few months ago when i was in greece i met an afghan family that had a young girl, 13-14, they had been on the road were nine month and not been to school for four years and yet she interpreted her family for me. i asked how did you learn that and she said everybody has a cellphone now. nine months on the road with google dictionary and that is
how this little girl was trying to educate herself. and i thought when our children don't want to do their homework and we see this appetite for study. >> guest: how many times i have gone home after being in a refuge situation and i met all these children saying i want to go to school and i see in conversation with my son i don't want to do this homework or and oh, do i have to go tomorrow? it is very difficult to get them to appreciate how amazing it is that they are actually in the privileged situation where they can attend school. it should be something that is not ever n debatable. it should be a given right that every child should be in school but unfortunately refuge children, i think, are probably the most ambitious children. they see the value. i have an example of asking
refuges when i meet them what did you take when the bombs were falling outside your mother and father said we are going now and this one refuge who i met in lebanon in a muddy tent i asked what did you take and his eyes lit up and he said i took my high school diploma and went off and retrieved it and it was wrapped in silk and he undid it and proudly showed it to me. this was the one thing he picked to take when he fled and he said you know why? because this is my future he said. and happily he is now in canada and going to the university of toronto. so, you know, there are very good stories to tell. >> host: yeah. well, i must really thank you for written this book. i read it in one day. it a compelling read.
as i said before, it is quite harrowing at times and hard to go through the passages. we wish doa the best possible future given the heartache and trauma she has gone through. i wish you all the success in this new era where the u.n. will move into a much more compelling way in allocating the fate of refuges. thank you very much for spending the time with me. >> guest: thank you to you, michelle, and the work of refuge international, your organization, which is doing essential and important and life-saving work for refuges around the world. i want to add also the proceeds from this book are going to go to refuges. >> host: that is lovely and i hope everyone on earth will read it. >> guest: thank you very much.