'I'm Still Here': NPR Reporter On Trying To Reconnect With Syrian Refugee

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NPR's Melissa Block has an essay about her experience trying to reconnect with a Syrian migrant she interviewed last summer.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That's a picture of the migrant crisis in Europe writ large. Last summer on the program, we heard from one migrant who left our colleague Melissa Block wondering, whatever happened to him? How did things turn out?

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: He had me at good afternoon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SOUFIAN ALMOBARK: Hello. Good afternoon.

BLOCK: How are you?

ALMOBARK: Yes, my dear. I am fine. My name is Soufian Almobark.

BLOCK: And I was my dear for the rest of our conversation. Soufian Almobark - 40 years old, a Syrian refugee. When he talked to me on an aid worker's cell phone, he had just made it to Greece, crossing the Aegean on an overcrowded, rubber dinghy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: (Laughter) The most horrible experience in my life.

BLOCK: He had decided it was too risky to take his wife and their 7-year-old daughter with them. For now, he said, they would stay behind in the Syrian countryside. When he landed in Greece, he told me the first thing he did was pull out his cell phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: Of course, directly, I've called them, and we all started crying.

BLOCK: Soufian Almobark spoke with pride of the life he used to know before the war in Syria. He used to be a financial manager, his wife an executive. It was a good life.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: If you saw me face-to-face, you know, I'm - in terms of business, I'm a white-shirt man.

BLOCK: You're a white-collar worker, yeah

ALMOBARK: You know that this terminology with the silk tie?

BLOCK: Yes.

ALMOBARK: And with the suit?

BLOCK: You're a businessman.

ALMOBARK: Yes, exactly. But now I'm in another world.

BLOCK: That other world was now a squalid migrant camp in Greece.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: Actually, it is the worst condition I have ever seen in my life.

BLOCK: But he told me he was thinking ahead. He wanted to make it to the U.K. to find work as a financial manager. He was hopeful.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: Of course, life must go on. We are all alive and kicking, but between time to time, I think of my family, and that's it. I just want to get them back to me as soon as possible.

BLOCK: So that was last August. We said goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ALMOBARK: Thank you very much, my dear.

BLOCK: Life went on as he said it would. But that brief encounter has stayed with me, and I keep thinking about Soufian Almobark as we've seen the migrant crisis get worse and worse. Did he end up packed in with those migrants stuck on trains in Hungary, blocked by razor wire or kicked or punched to the ground? And then I found him on Facebook, anyway. We friended each other, and there he was in his profile picture, hugging his daughter. She's smiling in a pink snowsuit. But when I clicked on it, I saw it's an old picture taken before he left Syria.

There are no clues that tell me where he is now or if his family has joined him. It's maddening. We don't have his phone number. I've emailed him and sent him messages through Facebook. He hasn't written back. But now and then, I'll discover that he has liked a photo I've posted. He's liked a photo of me and my daughter in the snow, a bird I saw on a walk, a quince bush blooming in January. He's even liked a pot of spaghetti sauce simmering on our stove. They are tiny, tiny pings sent from across an ocean. They don't tell me much, but they do say this. I'm here. I'm still here.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Melissa Block. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.