05:05 GMT +321 July 2019
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    Refugees helping other refugees find safety.

    Refugee Sets Up NGO in Greece and Helps Others After Swimming There From Turkey

    © Photo : Refugees 4 Refugees
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    Unlike most refugees fleeing war-torn Syria, 23-year-old Omar Alshakal took the route less traveled by many. Embarking on the most dangerous journey of all, Omar swam from Turkey to Lesbos in Greece. When he arrived, after seeing how badly NGOs were dealing with refugees, he decided to establish his own charity to help migrants in crisis.

    Arriving knee-deep in the blue waters of Lesbos, Omar knew only too well what it felt like to risks one's life. During his journey to Greece, he often thought he would drown in the dark night while in the pursuit of safety.

    However, Omar lived to tell the tale, and now based in Lesbos, he has started his own non-government organization (NGO) which provides humanitarian services to refugees arriving on the Greek islands.

    The NGO Refugee 4 Refugees, seeks to address the needs and concerns of refugees while also encouraging other migrants to get involved in their work. 

    Already, Refugee 4 Refugees has helped over 350 children in Turkey and in Syria, by providing them with clothes, toys and basic necessities, which was its first shipment that went out to children in Sanliurfa, Turkey. The NGO is currently fundraising to help buy a mountain-capable vehicle to offer support on Lesbos's remote and rocky landing sights.

    Refugees 4 Refugees rescuing a migrant boat in the Mediterranean
    © Photo : Refugees 4 Refugees
    Refugees 4 Refugees rescuing a migrant boat in the Mediterranean

    The organization will also be providing assistance and help to people still living in Syria and has already started to collect clothing and toys to send to refugee camps in the region.

    "I arrived in Lesbos in 2016 after swimming from Turkey. As soon as I got to Greece I knew there was a problem," Mr. Alshakal told Sputnik.

    "I saw the way they [refugees] were treated in Syria, Turkey and now Greece — by NGOs. I wanted to help and that's when I decided to set up Refugee 4 Refugees," Mr. Alshakal told Sputnik. 

    Refugees 4 Refugees
    © Photo : Refugees 4 Refugees
    Refugees 4 Refugees

    Omar came from the town of Deir-ez-Zor in eastern Syria. His journey began in 2011, when he joined in with the demonstrations inspired by the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, known as the Arab Spring, and was imprisoned.

    Once released from prison Omar decided his next mission was to try and help people who needed medical attention. As a result, he turned his car into an ambulance and ferried people back and forth to the hospital. But his car was eventually damaged by gunfire, however because Omar had proved so useful in helping the medical team receiving the injured, the hospital decided to recruit him and thus gave him an ambulance bus.

    "Many people at the hospital were afraid to drive. But I didn't care if I died at that time," he said.

    In May 2013 however, the ambulance was hit by a bomb and the six people he was carrying all died. Omar managed to make it out, yet tragically, he was bound to a wheelchair for months. He finally left Syria to seek medical care in Turkey.

    It was at this time that Omar decided to swim for 14 hours to Greece. With his injuries still causing him pain, Omar made the conscious decision to take the risk and swim for it.

    Refugees 4 Refugees delivering a shipment of food to migrants
    © Photo : Refugees 4 Refugees
    Refugees 4 Refugees delivering a shipment of food to migrants

    Once he was settled, Omar turned his attentions to solving the problems that he felt many NGOs ignored.

    Concerned with the way that NGOs were operating and how they managed their money, Omar desired to see more people like himself take the lead in the efforts, hence why he established Refugee 4 Refugees, which not only gives back, but also recruits other refugees to help migrants who arrive in Greece.

    "We know their situation, we speak their language, and we have been in their position. So we know best how to support them," Mr. Alshkal said in a recent interview.


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    humanitarian cargo, migrant crisis, NGO, charity, human rights, refugees, Syrian crisis, Refugee 4 Refugees, Lesbos, Turkey, Syria, Mediterranean Sea, Greece
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