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From Syria to Serbia: the refugee mother who can finally speak to her daughter


Imtisal escaped the bombs and bullets of her native country, Syria. She made a gruelling journey as far as Serbia. Then a car accident put her in hospital with serious injuries. Without any news of her, Imtisal’s family were frantic with worry – including her little girl.

A flash of light in the darkness, a screech of brakes, the sickening thud of a car hitting a body.

Somewhere on a motorway in northern Serbia, a speeding car interrupted Imtisal's 4,000-kilometre trek from Syria to Switzerland.

The 35-year-old was rushed to the nearest hospital in Subotica, near the Hungarian border. A rapidly assembled team of medical specialists saved her life, setting her broken hip and pelvis and treating her head injuries.

Heartbreakingly, doctors could do nothing for her unborn baby – due just one month later.

Separated from loved ones

As soon as they knew that Imtisal was going to survive, the family members travelling with her had to move on to their destination of Bern. Their cousin was waiting there.

Imtisal’s small daughter, aged two and a half, went with them.

They were relieved that they knew where Imtisal was and that she was getting good care.

But back in Syria, with no news, the rest of her family were worried sick.

Panic in Damascus

Imtisal’s brother was starting to panic as the days dragged on, with no news from his sister.

When he heard the Red Cross could help, he contacted the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) tracing team in Damascus. They passed the request for information and it reached Serbia.

Zoran, who works at the Subotica branch of the Serbian Red Cross, went straight to the hospital when he found out Imtisal was there.

Longing for her daughter

At the hospital, Zoran talked to Imtisal, the doctors, a psychologist and a social worker. He was aided by the indispensable Mohamed, a Syrian who has been living in Subotica for several years. He is now a volunteer interpreter for people caught up in the refugee crisis.

Despite being disoriented by her injuries, medication and the shock, Imtisal was able to use Zoran's ‘restoring family links’ phone to contact her family in Switzerland.

The call reassured her family, but even more importantly, it meant she could talk to her little daughter.

"I'm very tired and I'm in pain, but the physical pain is nothing compared to my only wish, which is to be with my daughter," said Imtisal. "She needs me so much."

Chats with her ‘little princess’

Imtisal is still weeks away from being well enough to join her family.

But at least Imtisal can now talk to her “little princess” every day. She has her own mobile phone, and her face lights up when she shows us her daughter's photo on the screen.

With weeks to go before her discharge from hospital, these family calls are Imtisal's lifeline.

The image does not show the family in this story to protect their identity.