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Life after exile - a freelancer's story

Life after exile - a freelancer's story

In 2015, the Rory Peck Trust gave 89 grants to freelancers forced into exile. One of them was Mohammad Ghannam, a Syrian-Palestinian freelance journalist who was released from jail in 2013. Recently, Mohammad sent us the following words and asked us to share them with you "to show how RPT are changing people's lives." 

"My name is Mohammad Ghannam, and I am a journalist. I left Syria in 2013 after I spent more than a year in prison there. I was jailed by the Syrian regime for being a journalist and for bringing food for civilians in areas under siege. I fled the country after my release to Lebanon, where I spent more than a year working for the New York Times in Beirut.

I was very happy with the team there, covering Syria and Lebanon and other countries in the region. But the Lebanese authorities refused to grant me a residence or work permit because I am of Palestinian origin. It became impossible for me to leave certain neighborhoods of Beirut where I knew I could be safe from arbitrary arrest. After some time passed, and when it became clear that there could be no solution to my situation, I applied for asylum in France.

I arrived in Paris in March 2015, without knowing the language or the work environment here. It was my first time in Europe, and I felt under enormous pressure. I was afraid that I would never find a job here, or that it would be impossible for me to start a new life here. I read a report online that said only a tiny percentage of journalists forced to flee their countries actually continued to work as journalists in exile. I was scared I would face the same fate as many others — and that I might even find it hard finding work in any other field. I got in touch with the Rory Peck Trust, and told them my story.

​They helped me during my first months in France, and this really made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It gave me strength to look for work, in order to survive and start a new life without being a burden on anyone. I applied to many jobs, and received many rejections. But finally, I ended up working as a Communication Officer with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in Paris.

I make frequent trips to northern France and Greece to visit asylum seekers and migrants living in camps there. I interview people on video and I administer a Facebook page named “Voices from the Road”. The page’s aim is to give voice to people who had to flee war and misery in their homes, making near-impossible journeys to exile, just to have a chance at life.

In just over six months, I was back at work in my field, in a job that makes me extremely happy and proud. I feel I can help people through my work, and that I can communicate particularly well with people who are vulnerable because I too have lived some very tough times.

It is very hard to start again — but with hope and a little help, it is not impossible."
Image credit: Anaëlle Bodin

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