Wars, climate change, economic and social injustices, have made millions of people refugees, with thousands dying, stranded on the borders of Europe, or the United States. At the recent GEN Summit in Dakar, Africa it was re-iterated that ecovillages are an effective alternative to migration, especially for young people.
However, ecovillages of the Global North can also assist directly, by providing new opportunities for refugees. This is the story of Fayez Karimeh, from Syria – however, similar experiences are currently being shared by refugees in various ecovillages around Europe. This is also a story about the strength of a network. Leila Dregger reports.
A civil engineer focusing mostly on the supply of water and sewerage, Fayez Karimeh of Yabroud in Syria, (married and father of four children), had been traveling before the war. In Ukraine, the former Soviet Union, UAE, KSA, Jordan, and Japan, he found and advised projects for communities in organic treated wastewater, farming, and management.
Syria consists of desert to a large extent. In a research project, he had examined mixed cultures, drip irrigation, and wastewater treatment, with the reuse of treated wastewater for the reforestation of his home region.
Even before the war, life was not easy. During the war time in his town, Yabroud, Syria, he found the instructions for a biogas digester system from Tamera ecovillage on the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) website. He built the digester in order to meet the energy needs for the local people in his town, Yabroud, during the war time, to stop deforestation and replace fire wood cutting around his town. He built the digester following the online instructions and in contact with the Tamera technical team.
Because of the difficult war situation in his country, he left Syria in February 2014.
“We decided to start a new life,” he says. He turned to Barbara Kovats at the Tamera ecovillage – with whom he was already in contact. The community of Tamera decided to give him a job in the ecology area until he found somewhere in Europe and could apply for asylum and bring his family to a richer country than Portugal.
An odyssey through bureaucracy began. Countless applications, calls, and risky journeys through a country where half the population has lost their home, followed. Finally, he was able to travel to Turkey from Lebanon, where he could apply for his visa for Portugal.
Responding to a mailing of the GEN network, friends in Ankara responded and housed him for over a month: “I am overwhelmed by the hospitality and warmth with which I was received by my new Turkish friends,” said Fayez. Already, thousands of Syrian refugees live on the streets in Turkey. The embassy promised to issue him a visa to Portugal after a month, but he received the passport back without it. Now what? Ali Gokmen, his host and new friend from Turkey, called at the embassy and explained the situation, and suddenly everything went very quickly. The next morning, Fayez finally received the visa. On to Tamera!
“Again, I found a warm welcome. Tamera is an inspiring community, creating a new model far away from violence and fear. As refugee from Syria escaping from death, I found a warm humanity in Tamera”, Fayez recalls.
For some weeks, he supported the ecology team in restructuring the compost system and also learned about the water retention landscape of Tamera, while earning some money that he could send home to support his family. During these weeks, more people from GEN became active in looking for a permanent place for Fayez to stay, work and possibly bring his family:
“We need to get away from war and violence, but not forever away from Syria. In the end we want to return to our home. We are Syrians, and we want to reconstruct our home country.”
GEN member, Ethan Hirsch-Tauber, wrote an appeal to European Ecovillages, and projects from Germany and Sweden responded. As a consequence, Fayez went to Sweden, his country of first choice, to explore ways to work and stay over there. He is presently staying in the house of network members, supported by Ecovillages and researchers.
Fayez: “Inspired by Tamera, where a fine model of alternative life is being created, and coming from Syria with its ancient civilization that first developed agriculture, the idea came to me to start organic farming communities in the Swedish countryside, to create jobs and occupations for the many Syrian, and other refugees, that come to this country.
I believe we can do it here in Sweden as a country that respect human rights, and has opened doors for asylum seekers and many abused people fromm around the world. I know that nothing is impossible in life.”
Fayez will explore these ideas with journalist and newspaper owner Petter Beckman ( www.sodrasidan.se ) and Malin Beckman, lecturer and researcher of the Department of Urban and Rural Development / Swedish University of Agriculture Science in the coming week. He expresses his deep thanks to Karin Gunnarsson for her guesting him in her own home in Sweden. After that, he is invited to visit the Gastwerke Community, in Germany.
Good luck, Fayez! We would love to continue reporting about your journey – until you live in Syria again and we share knowledge to rebuild this country.