November 18, 2016

#RefugeesLT: Journalism for Social Change

So far, Lithuania has become a shelter country for very few refugees fleeing the war-torn Syria. Moreover, many of those who come are trying to escape soon after. But Redwan Eid, a Syrian journalist who had no other choice but to leave his homeland, has decided to stay in Lithuania. He launched the crowdfunding campaign inviting everyone to support journalism which helps to facilitate the integration of refugees to Lithuanian society.

By Sergio Mañero

Redwan Eid © Ruslanas Iržikevičius @ the Lithuania Tribune

Redwan Eid © Ruslanas Iržikevičius @ the Lithuania Tribune

Redwan Eid is ready to tell us many stories of the Syrian refugees in Lithuania and Europe. He comes from the land that touches our continent from the East side. We have been exchanging people, culture and knowledge with that land throughout our history.

Redwan started his career in media back in early 2004, when a local official newspaper belonging to the regime’s media outlets was launched in his city Dayr Al-zawr. According to him, journalists in Syria were not able to work freely, as they were usually censored by country’s intelligence agencies and the ruling Ba’ath socialist party.

Things grew more complicated when the war started in 2011. ‘Very few journalists refused to be sold to the regime’, Redwan Eid told the He started to follow the revolutionary events and publish in the oppositional newspapers, such as Orient net, and on ‘Facebook’.

‘I criticized the regime, using my real name and picture. I revealed regime’s suppressions and the methods of torture which its men and mercenaries used against the detainees”, – he says.

The oppositional newspapers, their authors and the social media activists, as Redwan explains, were “more subjected to detention and torture, as the regime concentrated on all the activists that took part in revealing its brutality, especially, on social media websites”.

Redwan had to leave Syria because too many people knew where he lived, and the fear of  being detained, or worse, became unbearable as more and more journalist in Syria were dying of unnatural causes, were arrested or started to disappear.

Redwan realised that if he would have stayed, he could have changed very little, while the risk  was becoming bigger. So he decided to escape. There was no thought about Lithuania at that time.

His very long road first lead him through Turkey, where he lived and worked for some time, to Greece, where he was placed in several refugee camps and shelters. Finally, under European program for redistribution of refugees (EASO), he agreed to be moved to Lithuania.


Syrian Journalist Redwan, Editor-in-Chief Iržikevičius and #RefugeesLT ambassador Narkevičiūtė just before launching the project @ the Lithuania Tribune

Since he arrived, one of the most popular internet dailies in Lithuania, the Delfi, have noticed his talent and invited him to contribute. The English Delfi has also launched  a crowdfunding campaign: #RefugeesLT, to raise funds for Redwan, enabling him to report on the circumstances of the newly arrived refugees in Lithuania.

The Syrian or Iraqi refugees are culturally different from those which Lithuanian society is more commonly used to (Ukrainians or Russians). On the other hand, they all try to escape terror.

During European negotiations, Lithuania has agreed to accept a thousand refugees within one year. When they arrive, they are sent to the Refugee Reception Center in Rukla. After three months they are asked to leave and settle.

‘We do not know where they [go afterwards]’, Redwan claims .

Cash support for the refugees in Lithuania is very modest. First half of the year they get a monthly amount that varies from 204 euros (for a single person) to 612 euros (the highest, for families), and in the second half of the year that amount is reduced to the half. These money are meant to cover all the necessary costs: from housing to food and transportation.

Redwan argues that there is not enough support for the refugees in Lithuania.

‘The overall situation is very poor. And to be frank, Lithuania [is not ready] to receive refugees with this little support that it provides. A refugee needs at least an apartment to live in to get on their feet again after all the devastation that has been experienced”.

Redwan has already followed and covered some of the recent issues that affected the refugees in Lithuania.

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany @ Mstyslav Chernov @Wikimedia Commons

A line of Syrian refugees crossing the border of Hungary and Austria on their way to Germany @ Mstyslav Chernov @Wikimedia Commons

‘I feel very sorry for the latest assault cases in Rukla. It even reached to a degree when some Lithuanians attacked Syrian women and pulled off their headscarves. This was very sensitive to Syrians due to the deep connection between the headscarves and their culture as Muslims. What was even more shocking, is that the mayor of Rukla held the refugees responsible for that and openly declared that they should have taken off their headscarves to show respect for the Lithuanian society”, he said

Redwan also wondered what would have happened if Lithuanian women came to Syria and they were forced to wear headscarves to show their respect for Syrian or Islamic culture. ‘Respect is respect everywhere’, says a Syrian journalist.

Showing respect is not only tolerating, but also knowing and appreciating other realities, different people. Redwan can be the one who tells us stories about refugees with a realistic and humanistic approach that is ethically needed.

Successful integration stories are possible. This initiative can be case among other programs that help exiled journalist to restart their careers in their host countries. You can also contribute to this changing movement.


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