Syrian Refugees In Europe Deliver Heartfelt Messages To Their Mums Back Home For Mother's Day

A powerful reminder for xenophobes that we’re all human.

20/03/2016 00:23 | Updated 21 March 2016

"Family comes first - our mothers are our world." These are the words of Mouddar, a Syrian refugee stranded 4,000 km from his widowed mum in Damascus. 

The pair will be spending Mother's Day this year apart for the first time - "like enduring Christmas without your family", he says - along with thousands more people uprooted from their communities and scattered across the world by Syria's civil war.

Mouddar, a 31-year-old refugee who now works as an advertising intern in Sweden, has no father. His mother, who raised him and his two brothers alone in Damascus, will spend a day most of us take for granted fumbling with her phone desperately trying to get a strong enough Wi-Fi signal to call her son and hear his voice.

Many mums will spend Mother's Day - celebrated in Syria tomorrow, March 21 - at home, not knowing if their children survived treacherous voyages across the Aegean or Mediterranean. 

Others, travelling to safety with their families, will have boarded dinghies that capsized or suffered a puncture. Some forced to witness their babies drown. 

Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Rukhsan Muhammed, who used her suitcase to keep her 1-year-old son, Mirwan, from drowning. Despite her efforts, the boy fell off the suitcase and was lost amongst the waves

But Mouddar is pioneering a powerful scheme to help refugees call home, warming the hearts of millions of Syrian mothers who have been left alone. 

"These people don't have the primary privilege of speaking to their home," he says, speaking on a mobile from his new office in Stockholm.

"Here everybody has a smartphone - it's so easy and cheap to call internationally but there are thousands of Syrians who cannot call home to their mothers."

The university graduate has teamed up with a Swedish charity, Refugee Phones, to invite people to leave touching voice messages for their mums. Their audio will be played on Fuse FM - a popular Syrian national radio station.

Happy Mother's Day, mom. I miss my mom. I haven’t see her for three and a half years, and that makes me very sad. I miss her a lot. Syrian Refugee

"It's so difficult to imagine this time of the year without your mum," Mouddar says. "It's like spending Christmas without your family. This is how it is for us - it's very, very difficult. 

"I know that my mum is a bit safer than others because she's in Damascus, so you can imagine for other Syrians they're not only feeling bad because they're not spending it with their mums, they're actually very worried about their mum's all the time because they're in conflicted areas - like Aleppo and Homs - they don't have a lot of safety."

Both cities have been fraught battlegrounds in the struggle between various faction vying for territorial control. Some 17,612 people in Homs have lost their lives since the start of the conflict in Spring 2011, opposition website 'Syrian Martyrs' claims; in Aleppo that figure rises to 29,686.

AP/Vadim Ghirda/ Hassan Ammar
Hala Haddad, left, a 19-year-old English literature student from Syria's now pulverized city of Homs, right, sits at a camp in Idomeni, northern Greece

You can hear the joy in his voice when Mouddar recalls how fellow refugees he's worked with react to discovering they can send a message home for Mother's Day. 

"It mean a lot of them," he says. "You can see their eyes go from sad to sparkling because they know when their mum hears their voice they're going to be so happy and smiling."

Gustav Martner, co-founder of the charity that's helping Mouddar's ad agency, Åkestam Holst, hopes the pair's scheme will have a much bigger effect on the diminishing attitudes to asylum seekers by some EU leaders and natives.

"We try to focus on what is the same for all people," Gustav says. "Family and the strong bond between mother and child - that is a human value that this project can remind us of.

Mouddar rings his mother from Stocklholm

"I hope this can remind a lot of the xenophobes and racists that the people they're talking about are those longing for their mothers. Just like they do on Mother's Day.

"There is an attempt to dehumanise them - that all these people come here because they want something. People say: 'They're sending their kids here so they can get their whole family here, they want the tax money' - there's a lot of things that take away from the truth.

"And that is that these are people, just like you and me. No-one wants to leave their mother behind."

Gustav acknowledges that his charity's efforts, and the Mother's Day partnership with Mouddar, are a small but significant help to those fleeing Syria. 

But he thinks while more needs to be done on the international stage, everyone is responsible for helping refugees in whatever way they can. 

I hope that you will see me and my brothers in the best positions, and I want to tell you that you are the best and the most beautiful mother in the world Syrian refugee

"The biggest threat is when people are trying to amplify differences between each other, rather than focusing on what's uniting us. That's really when you can get a rhetoric and have political decisions made that are just terrible.

"But the less we distance ourselves from each other the more human the politics will be. 

"I hope Syrian mothers will think that not only are their sons and daughters there for them but also that it seems like people in Europe actually care - that we have helped.

"Because Europe is not helping much and that is probably a huge disappointment for the Syrian people. And we can't fix that - it seems. There's a sense of guilt in myself and, I hope, a lot of other Europeans. 

"In the end, what really needs to be done is bigger things - obviously we need to stop the war. That's much more important than doing a modern day campaign. But we need to do whatever we can on all levels."

Refugees from all over the world can call the hotline – +46 (0) 8 518 01 420 – and record messages to send back home. Messages can be recorded anonymously in order to maintain the privacy of participants, though specific personal touches will be constant throughout, so mothers back in Syria can recognise and appreciate the messages of love coming from their sons and daughters.

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