“My brother, he stays in a room in my family’s house in Damascus for the last year. If he leaves the house, he will be taken to the army to kill other Syrians, or the rebels will take him to join their forces,” says Almotaz, standing in the small storefront where he opened a restaurant in Bogotá.
Almotaz Bellah Kehdrou is a Syrian refugee living in the capital of Colombia, who is desperate to get his younger brother out of Damascus. I'm Jen Daum, an American who has been living in Bogotá for the last three years and met Almotaz through his absolutely fantastic cooking. I work at Corpas University in Suba, a neighborhood in Bogota, close to Almotaz's restaurant and home.
After a long, difficult arrival in Colombia via the Ecuador border, Almotaz has built a decent life for himself in Bogota. He has a lovely Colombian wife, Jessica, and a one year old son. After registering as a refugee and receiving a few months' assistance he is running his own (absolutely delicious!) Syrian restaurant and making enough money to support his wife and child. His mother taught him to cook via Skype and he has brought top-notch Syrian food to Bogota. Here are some links to interviews Almotaz and Jessica have done: RCN interview (Spanish)
, El Espectador interview (Spanish)
, BluRadio interview (Spanish)
, and BuzzFeed (English)
However, he does not have the $4,000 necessary to bring his 22 year old brother, Abdullah Khedrou, from Damascus. He has been essentially stuck in his family's home for the last year and for obvious reasons Almotaz is more and more concerned for his safety and well-being with each passing day. When he must leave the house he's harassed and must pay bribes to get home safely. Almotaz's father owned a supermarket in Damascus that was bombed 5 years ago. While his parents are also housebound (his father leaves for work a couple days a week but is constantly worried about his safety), Abdullah is still young so he is the family's priority for now.
Like many of you, I have been feeling powerless about the situation in Syria and about Donald Trump’s executive order that has ended many Syrian refugees’ hope to escape and find a new home in the US. I know there are many valuable organizations looking for your donations and I appreciate you reading Almotaz's story. There are millions of people searching for a better life and it can be hard to know how to best help. In this case, I know Almotaz and his family, so this is something concrete we can do to improve the lives of these family members!
Because of transit visa issues, his brother will need to purchase a one-way ticket from Beirut to Abu Dhabi to Sao Paolo to Quito, Ecuador and then cross the border from there. Syrians do not need a visa for Ecuador. This is not the cheapest ticket available for purchase but is the only route that doesn’t require (impossible to receive) transit visas for Syrians and will allow him to travel legally.
We estimate that the ground transport, ticket and short-term hotel stays in Beirut and Quito will cost $4,000 ($700 for the lawyer, who charges 2 million pesos; $3,000 for the ticket; and $300 for up to a week of hotel stays). The ticket will be purchased on Etihad, an Abu Dhabi-based airline, and Abdullah will stay in the Hostel Beirut, which was recommended by a friend who used to live there. Almotaz and his family will cover the cost of travel from Quito to Bogota as well as costs associated with getting from Damascus to Beirut. If Abdullah is able to secure free housing in either Beirut or Quito (or if, by some miracle, the ticket costs less) any excess funds will be used to invest in the restaurant and to help cover transport for Almotaz to meet his brother in Quito. We do not anticipate that this will be the case but wanted you all to know that we have a plan. If we get more than $5,000 we'll stop accepting donations so you can choose another worthy cause for your money!
The UN here has already publicly confirmed, in a prior TV interview, that he will be allowed to stay in Colombia, claim asylum and register as a refugee once he arrives (a process Almotaz and the Bogota-based lawyer know well). Almotaz's restaurant and catering business is busy enough that Abdullah will be able to work and support himself once he arrives.
Please consider donating to support Almotaz and Abdullah, who are incredibly grateful and hopeful. If we are unable to raise all the funds in the next two months we will still retain what we have and put it towards the eventual cost of bringing Abdullah.
PS - Since Almotaz doesn't have a US account I am collecting these funds in my personal account to send to his brother. Per GoFundMe's follow up questions, we will be paying for the lawyer here in Bogota and will be purchasing the ticket to Quito online (on the advice of the lawyer). The hotel funds will be sent to Beirut via TransferWise. Abdullah will be met in Quito by Almotaz. If you know me, you know that I am completely trustworthy. If you don't know me, I am sorry for not being able to set this fundraiser to go directly to his brother but hope you can find a shared connection who can vouch for me.