WhatsApp Saved His Life, Now Syrian Lawyer Helping Asylum Seekers in Greece

Sunday, January 1st, 2017
Last Update: 21:10

In October 2015 Syrian Lawyer Mahmoud Alkuder was making the treacherous journey across the Aegean to reach Greece in hopes of seeking asylum in the European Union when the vessel that he and some 60 people were on ran out of gas.

At first the 30-year-old from Aleppo used his cell phone to call the Greek Coast Guard, who didn’t buy that the vessel was stranded about 1 mile from the Greek island Lesvos. “If you’re really stranded with other people,” the coast guard asked him, “why is there no noise behind you? No chaos?” Even after Alkuder explained that he had asked everyone to keep quiet so that he could call for help, it wasn’t enough to convince the authorities — he was calling from a Jordan cell phone number, as he had fled Syria in 2011 and had been with family in Jordan ever since.

That’s when Alkuder thought to offer to send the officer a photo via WhatsApp to prove where he was and that his call was not a prank. “Send it to me, then,” the officer replied, and Alkuder did just that.

The boat was rescued by the Coast Guard and towed to the nearby island of Lesvos where Alkuder stayed while awaiting approval of his asylum request.

“Once I arrived, I turned myself in to a refugee reception camp,” he recalled to Business Insider Australia. “I started to translate for people to help them, and then volunteered officially to translate from English to Arabic and vice versa,” he said.

In less than a year Alkuder was able to be granted asylum and moved to a small German city outside of Dusseldorf, where he is now working on finishing his MBA online and is putting his expertise to work helping other asylum seeking migrants — many of whom are living in camps at the migrant hotspot where he once anxiously awaited his asylum request to be granted — on the Greek island of Lesvos.

Since he has a law degree and speaks English and Arabic fluently, Alkuder was enthusiastically accepted by the organization of Advocates Abroad, which is composed of attorneys and human rights experts who offer free legal advice to refugees throughout Europe. Alkuder said that he decided to return to Lesvos because “a lot of refugees get trapped because they don’t understand how to navigate the asylum process,” adding, “It would be unfair to the other refugees if I spent my time helping Syrians, just because I am Syrian…So I mostly helped people who had arrived from Nigeria, Eritrea, and Somalia.”When he is not assisting migrants with their asylum seeking application and process, Alkuder spends his time working on developing an App that will help connect Germans with asylum seekers, saying “Refugees want to meet Germans, and vice versa..But they rarely have the chance to connect, or to help each other. I’m trying to change that.”

“I left Syria four years ago and I still dream about it,” he said. “But now, when I think of Germany, I think of it as my home country. I have basic dignity here. I feel like a human being again.”

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