Doaa Al Zamel grew up in Daraa, Syria, now known as the “cradle of the Syrian revolution.” When Doaa was a 16-year-old high school student in 2011, President Bashar al-Assad’s tanks and troops invaded the city, reducing it to rubble and killing thousands of civilians, forcing many of those who remained to flee. A year later, the Al Zamels sought safety in Egypt, where Doaa met fellow Syrian refugee Bassem, 28. The two fell in love and got engaged, and when the tide started turning against Syrian refugees in Egypt, they decided to try to reach Europe to start a new life in Sweden.
It was 11 a.m. on September 6, 2014, when the call came. Doaa carefully repacked a change of clothes for herself and her fiancé, along with their toothbrushes, a large plastic bag of dates, and a big bottle of water, and placed them one by one into the Mickey Mouse backpack she’d kept from her school days back in Syria. She wrapped their passports and engagement contract in plastic wrap, then dropped them in a sandwich bag and folded over the end. Next, she placed her mobile phone and wallet with 500 euros and 200 Egyptian pounds in a separate plastic bag—and secured each bundle underneath the straps of her red tank top, the first of four layers of clothes she had carefully selected for the journey. The plastic immediately made her skin sweat in the humid late-morning heat.
Five minibuses packed with fellow Syrian and Palestinian refugees w