A Syrian refugee’s perilous journey to the West.
The subject of an earlier TED talk by Fleming, the head of communications and chief spokesperson for the United High Commissioner for Refugees, Doaa Al Zamel was not yet 20 when she was driven from her homeland by civil war and a brutal government campaign against her rebel region. The numbers, as the author cites them, are daunting and the odds very much against Doaa: more than 5 million Syrians forced to flee abroad, many more than that made internal refugees in their own country. Doaa left with the vaguely formed idea of making her way to asylum in Europe. In the hands of smugglers, beset by rough seas and pirates, she survived a horrific shipwreck, so far among the deadliest in the annals of illegal migration from Africa to Europe, with more than 500 victims. She also saved the life of a toddler, earning awards from humanitarian agencies and calling renewed attention to the plight of refugees from Syria. Finally resettled in Sweden, Doaa’s story is one of the few refugee tales so far to have anything approaching a happy ending, making Fleming’s narrative an aspirational if perhaps unusual one. As for Doaa herself, who closes the book with a brief statement, she aspires “one day…to return to Syria so I can breathe again.” Fleming’s competently written book has modest value as an expanded record of a story already widely reported. In the hands of the right readers, it will change the minds of some Westerners about the intent and character of the foreign people who are streaming their way, though it is hard to imagine it altering the policy of, say, a Republican governor in the Midwest.
More than anything else, this is a testimonial to the very definition of heroism—when, that is, an ordinary person responds in extraordinary ways to extraordinary events.