What happened to the 12 Syrian refugees rescued by the pope?

When Pope Francis saved a dozen refugees from a Lesbos detention centre and took them to Rome it was ‘like a miracle’, one of them said. A month on, what is their new life like?

Ramy Alshakarji was still coming to terms with the idea that at last he was safe – he was leaving Lesbos after all, one of 11 refugees rescued by the pope last month – when he found himself at the centre of an improbable security crisis.

Ramy must have thought he had a broad and visceral understanding of the meaning of security after five years in Syria during which he and his family had been “ready to die at any moment, constantly moving because there was constant bombardment”.

But at the airport, as he and his wife and their three children passed through the scanners, a panicked flurry broke around them.

“It was our falafel mould,” Ramy smiles. They had brought the metal falafel maker with them from their home in Deir ez-Zor.

“But the Greeks wouldn’t let us take it on the plane. But we were going on the pope’s plane! The Vatican officials told them it had to come … The Greeks said no. There was a conflict between Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, a diplomatic rift between the Greeks and the Italians. All over our falafel mould.”

The Vatican prevailed and the mould has become for the family a more consequential object than Ramy’s wife, Suhila Ayiad, thought when she packed her bag long ago, and her eyes alighted on the small metal instrument tucked inside a package of scissors, needles, thread, “all the things I’d need”.

For a moment she weighed the space the mould occupied in the bag against its future usefulness. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll leave it in there.’”

“To remember,” Ramy says. Continue reading


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