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Pianist of Yarmouk: Life after refugee camp

Aeham al-Ahmad played piano to the children of besieged Yarmouk [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 19 September, 2016

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Aeham Ahmad made headlines last year with the music he brought to under-siege Yarmouk camp. He tells his story as the UN summit addresses a record refugee crisis.

Is there life after a refugee camp?

With a record 65 million people are now on the move, fleeing war, persecution and poverty, the first-ever UN summit on the largest migrant crisis of our time will address how, where and when to resettle those who no longer have a home.

A small minority have been lucky enough to find a safe haven in Europe.

Among those is Aeham al-Ahmad.

His story first came under the spotlight in June 2015, when his piano playing lightened the lives of those living in besieged Yarmouk camp.

Read more here: The piano of Yarmouk

Born in 1988 in the Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus, Aeham was in the middle of his studies at university in Homs when war broke out in Syria.

In 2012, fierce clashes reached the camp, killing civilians, obliterating schools and hospitals and displacing some 140,000 Palestinian refugees.

Around 18,000 are currently trapped under a state of siege, with limited humanitarian assistance gaining access.

Before the siege, Yarmouk camp had a tradition of a rich cultural and musical life, influenced both by Palestinian heritage and the neighbouring Damascus. Aeham's father is also a musician and an oud-maker.

His studies cut short, Aeham embraced this tradition – and decided to “fight” with his piano, bringing joy amid the horrors of the conflict.

I couldn’t afford to provide food for people in Yarmouk, but I could feed their brains with music

“I took my piano and made it everything: my work, and my studies at university; to teach children music,” he told UN Radio, ahead of Monday's summit.

“I teach them (children) in the streets, and sing with them, laugh with them, and fall in love with them,” he said.

“I couldn’t afford to provide food for people in Yarmouk, but I could feed their brains with music.

“When I put my piano in the middle of the road, I see them coming like bees to a rose flower."

That was in 2015. “I decided to leave, after Zeinab died,” he explained. Zeinab was a little girl who used to sing with him.

She was killed when Islamic State opened fire on the camp, and burned down his piano.

Zeinab was a little girl who used to sing with him. She was killed when Islamic State opened fire on the camp, and burned down his piano

Having fled to Germany, via Turkey, Aeham is now trying to use his music to show the world the real face of refugees and Muslims, adding: "We're not terrorists."

In Germany, Aeham has a new life and new dreams to aspire to. But the story is different for other refugees, still caught up in the conflict in Syria, and in other atrocities around the world.

Many, like him, are trying to find their way out of those conflicts, to seek safety in other countries, which are also straining under the burden.

At Monday's summit, the 193 UN member-states will agree to meet the targets set by the UN refugee agency, by resettling five percent of the global refugee population – that would amount to 1.1 million resettlements in 2017, compared to 100,000 in 2015.

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