• Abir Soleiman | Communications Officer, IOM UK
From the left: Waad Al-Kateab (Syrian journalist and Emmy-award winning director), Hamza Al-Kateab (doctor, human rights activist and public health advocate), Afraa Hashem (teacher and activist)

No one wants to be a refugee. It is not easy to leave behind your home, family, and loved ones. We were forced to flee Syria to survive.

As part of Refugee Week 2023 festival the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the UK in partnership with Action For Sama hosted an event to raise awareness of the devastating impact that war and displacement have on people's lives, but also to reflect on this year's theme of compassion. 

For Sama” is an intimate and epic journey into the female experience of war. A love letter from a young mother to her daughter, the film tells the story of Waad al-Kateab’s life through five years of the uprising in Aleppo, Syria as she falls in love, gets married and gives birth to Sama, all while cataclysmic conflict rises around her.


Six years after their displacement, the very few belongings that Waad, her family and many other Syrian nationals managed to bring with them on their journey in search of safety, are the only connection left to their homes. 
These objects have been displayed in the pop-exhibition "Belongings" to mark Refugee Week 2023, telling powerful stories of displacement and resilience, the memories behind them, and the stories of Syrians whose lives have been destroyed and changed forever by the war.

These objects that we managed to take with us are the most precious things that we own, and will always be.

Looking specifically at the context in Syria, after almost 12 years, the crisis in Syria continues to affect the lives of millions of people:

IOM teams distribute a batch of donated electric heaters in a temporary settlement in Malatya. Photo: IOM Türkiye/Begüm Başaran 2023
IOM teams distribute a batch of donated electric heaters in a temporary settlement in Malatya. Photo: IOM Türkiye/Begüm Başaran 2023

  • 15 million people are in dire need of humanitarian assistance  
  • over 6 million are internally displaced  
  • over 5 million Syrians are refugees in neighbouring countries. 

 The earthquakes that hit the region in February made the situation even worse. 

"IOM staff are present in Northwest Syria and in the neighbouring countries Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan and support the most vulnerable individuals with lifesaving assistance such as shelter, food, water, and healthcare, and work to increase access to basic services, livelihoods, education and psychosocial support". 

"IOM in the UK supported the resettlement of 20,000 refugees – from Syria and other Middle Eastern countries, and of 1,800 refugee children, through dedicated schemes set up by the Government." explained Christa Rottensteiner, IOM UK Chief of Mission.

We have seen it happening in other regions affected by protracted conflicts - Syria is at risk of becoming a forgotten crisis. We cannot let this happen and raising awareness is critical.

"This Refugee Week we wanted to raise awareness of some of the reasons that force people to flee their homes. People move for a variety of reasons, and whether it is to seek sanctuary or a better life – everyone is entitled to their human rights being respected" said Rottensteiner in her opening remarks.  

"Sadly, the number of people who lose their lives on their migration journey is increasing. Our reports find that these deaths can be prevented. The latest horrific tragedy in the Mediterranean, only one week ago, calls for decisive action to prevent further loss of life, including the provision of assistance to boats in distress without delays".  

"More safe and legal routes are urgently needed, as we find that the lack of regular routes is one of the factors that push people to undertake these dangerous journeys", highlighted Rottensteiner.

During the event, the live art perfomance by Syrian artist Salem Al-Atrash paid tribute to the many people who lost their lives on migration journeys in search of safety.

Following the screening of "For Sama", the audience had the opportunity to interact with Waad Al-Kateab, Hamza Al-Kateab and Afraa Al-Atrash. The discussion was moderated by Ahmad Al-Rashid, who also fled Syria a few years ago and now leads IOM UK's team of cross-cultural facilitators, helping local authorities and communities across the UK to better support refugees and fostering mutual understanding.

The event "For Sama - Belongings" took place on Friday 23 June at the Asia House in central London.

At the end of the event, inspired by the film, exhibition and rich discussion, guests shared their reflections on this year's Refugee Week theme of compassion.

Compassion is looking at refugees' individual stories, rather than statistics and numbers ~ A warm smile ~ Listening without judgment, hearing the stories & preserving memories.


Photos: IOM United Kingdom/Moayad Zaghdani, Abir Soleiman 2023