Lending a hand and saving lives, the Syrian way

Lending a hand and saving lives, the Syrian way
Feature: The Dubarah website launched in 2013 to give Syrian refugees a virtual support network. It now has five million users and helps hundreds every day, says creator Ahmad EdilBi.
5 min read
12 August, 2015
An estimated nine million Syrians have fled their homes [Getty]

The Syrian conflict has triggered the world's largest humanitarian crisis since World War Two. Millions have fled their homes in hopes of a better life elsewhere, but many do not have basic services, education, long-term work prospects or protection.

Cue Dubarah – a service network created by a Syrian to help Syrian refugees worldwide. From finding a place to live, to potential job opportunities, education prospects to psychological support and lifestyle guides, Dubarah helps the Syrian diaspora get back on their feet in a new region.

The website was created by Ahmad EdilBi, a Syrian refugee who struggled after leaving Syria for Dubai in March 2012. It was there he decided that no other Syrian should have to face such a struggle, and a year later, Dubarah was born.

"My situation was really bad," Ahmad says. "I had no idea about life in Dubai and once I got there, I really struggled. I was unemployed for eight months. I was in debt and had to borrow money from a lot of people."

It was after Ahmad met a group of friends that things began falling into place. "They advised me on best ways to find work, living prospects and just general guidance on life in Dubai."

"One hour and one cup of coffee was enough to solve the problems that for months I myself could not solve," he says.

It was this guidance that gave Ahmad the idea of Dubarah, a Syrian-Arabic slang word that translates into "a lending hand".


Dubarah on Facebook

"I thought to myself, why allow people to go through what I went through. Why not do something to help people avoid that situation altogether," he said.

Launched in February 2013, Dubarah has since successfully provided support by introducing new arrivals to current Syrian expatriates already in the region.

Within the first hour of its launch, about 1,800 users had registered on the website and the Facebook page had nearly 3,000 likes.

"The outcome was clear," Ahmad said. "Syrians around the world wanted to know how they could help, other than just through financial aid. Dubarah provided them with a tool to not only communicate with one another, but also gave them the opportunity to provide a range of services and support these displaced Syrians needed when starting a new life in a new country."

Over the years, Dubarah has grown significantly and Ahmad reveals that nearly five million people now form the network. "These people are real, and are communicating every day," he adds. "There isn't a Syrian outside Syria who does not know of Dubarah."

The Syrian struggle

An estimated nine million Syrians have fled their homes since March 2011, taking refuge in neighbouring countries or elsewhere in Syria.

According to UNHCR, more than four million have fled to Syria's immediate neighbours Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, while more than seven million are internally displaced within Syria.

Meanwhile, nearly 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have promised to resettle a further 33,000.

"Most aid and relief organisations headed to Syria or neighbouring countries to help the displaced people," Ahmad said, "but at that time, no one was paying attention to the thousands who headed elsewhere, such as into Europe or the Emirates. Who was going to take care of them?" he asked. "So Dubarah took on this responsibility."

"Every day there are stories of struggles," Ahmad adds. He shares a story of a Syrian family stuck in Greece.

"It was a very difficult situation; they had very limited options, either stay stuck where they are or die. Fortunately Dubarah was able to reach them at the right time," he says.

"The Syrians who made contact picked up the displaced family, hosted them for three days and helped provide appropriate solutions for their dilemma."

One of the Syrian helpers turned out to be a lawyer in Greece and everything was done for free. "It was a miracle," Ahmad said. "We managed to save a family of six, save them from getting lost, from facing homelessness and even prison."

Dubarah also prides itself with the policy of "repaying the favour".

"Around a year ago, we were contacted by a Syrian man in Dubai who was sleeping rough after losing his job. Through our network, we were able to communicate with Syrians in the Emirates to see who would be available to help.

"The man called us up two hours later, crying. Around 16 people from various parts of the Emirates had turned up to help him. The funny thing is, no one contacted him, they all just took action straight away, so he was not expecting to see all these people. This is what really moved him," Ahmad said. 

The man is now a manager at a company and now able to help others who face situations like he did.

"This is the idea of Dubarah," Ahmad said. "Dubarah helps you, and you repay the favour by helping someone else."

Dubarah's positive future

On average, Dubarah is able to help about 500 Syrians a day, Ahmad says.

"Many people congratulate me for the 'success' of Dubarah. But is Dubarah's project as a whole successful? In my personal experience, no, it's not, because Syria's disaster is a lot bigger than the issues we are dealing with," he said.

However, Ahmad remains optimistic for the future with plans to expand into the Arab world as a whole.

"I will call Dubarah successful when it is able to contain not only the Syrian crisis, but the Arab crisis in general – and that is what we aim to do.

"What we must remember is what links people together is their sense of humanity, their concern, their positive attitude and their love."