Hassan was in Kirkuk when a bomb exploded in a nearby building. He was with some of his colleagues. They entered to see if they can help. A machinegun opened fire on them. His colleagues died. He now has 18 years and considers Romania his home.

"A few bullets stopped in my knee, but my colleagues were shot in the chest. They died” is what Hassan told us.

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When you lose all you love the most, your family, it is very hard to raise yourself from the pavement, from where you fell after being machine-gunned. Hassan, 18, an Iraqi child, whose father - a policeman - was killed in action, wanted to escape hell. He reached Timisoara hidden in a truck.

Hassan is a ninth grade student in Giurgiu. He goes to school on crutches because terrorists crushed his knee with their machine guns, back in his native country. He no longer has a family, except for his big brother. The rest—his father, his mother, another brother and their sister—died in blasts provoked by people who seem to have no other purpose in life than to blow people up. When his knee was broken, in a terrorist assault, two of his friends died near him.

"One day in 2013, I went with my colleagues in the city center. A bomb exploded close to us and we wanted to get inside to see who was hurt or died. At that moment, a car with a machine gun appeared and shot everyone. Two of my colleagues got down, but I was standing. Several bullets got into my knee, but they were shot in the chest. They died,” recounts Hassan how he lost his friends.

His father was a high-ranking police officer, and a friend of his helped Hassan leave Iraq. He got to Romania after travelling for several days hidden in a lorry, together with two other youngsters, surviving on a few apples and some water. He only knew that he left Turkey and arrived in Romania.

His chance was the help received from a few ladies in Bucharest and Giurgiu that assisted him to go to a school, bought him some clothes and took care of him. Hassan is an ambitious youngster, he knows he lost everything but he has plans for the future: he wants to build a family, follow a barber school, and get his knee repaired so that he could get rid of the crutches. And his plans are connected to Romania, because he wants to remain here.

School has proven to be very difficult for Hassan, as he does not know Romanian very well. He learns it, he can make himself understood when talking, but he has big troubles in the Latin course. He is repeating the ninth grade, but he has not given up and continues to go to classes with his Romanian colleagues.

"For him, it is very important how good he understands Romanian, how much he understands from what is taught in the class. From what I’ve heard, by now he speaks Romanian well. Very well”, tells us Cristina Anghel, the school principal of the Tudor Vianu High School in Giurgiu, where Hassan is learning.

Hassan started school in Romania as an unattached student. He participated in classes, listened to courses, but he wasn’t given grades. It was a kind of training for when he was officially registered as a student. At the end, he took a test. What would have been commonplace for a Romanian student was very hard for Hassan: he had to write in Romanian and left-to-right writing was new to him.

"After this test, he could be enlisted in the ninth grade. We do not know what his level at maths in his country was, but he has some basic information”, says the head of the high school.

His classmates did not hesitate when it came to raising money for Hassan’s leg surgery.

"His integration was quick, children socialize very rapidly. Maybe it was also the oddity of having a refugee among them. His medical issue made the other students aware and they organized a fundraiser to help him with the surgery, because the needed amount is quite large. They launched a big action, not only in school, but also in town, went to institutions, even at Vodafone. It is a commendable gesture for some ninth grade kids”, Cristina Anghel says.

Now, Hassan is thinking he needs money again, for his second surgery, which he hopes will also be the last. He hopes he will be able to walk normally, as all the others.

Hassan, 18: "My father was a police officer and I had a brother and a sister. My family was known in the town because of my father, a high ranking officer.”

"Even the terrorists knew us."

"Then, more and more terrorists started to come in my town, Kirkuk. My town is a big city, it has gas stations, natural resources, that’s why it attracted more and more terrorists. They made bombs, blew up car bombs, and may people died because of them. My mother, my sister and one of my brothers died in such a terrorist attack. I have only a brother left, who is older than me and is a mathematics teacher.”

"One day in 2013, I went with my colleagues in the city center. A bomb exploded close to us and we wanted to get inside to see who was hurt or died. At that moment, a car with a machine gun appeared and shot everyone. Two of my colleagues got down, but I was standing.”

"Several bullets got into my knee, but they were shot in the chest. They died.”

"Afterwards, I stayed for 8 or 9 months with a family, friends of my father’s. I split time between home and hospital. My house, where I lived with my family, was torched, and nobody knows by whom.”

"They also set fire to two cars that were owned by my dad. Then I spoke with a friend, a former colleague of my father, and told him I have nothing to do there anymore. I couldn’t repair my leg, I couldn’t go to school, I had no life. Nothing.”

"He offered to help me leave the country, which is what I wanted.”

"This friend sold in 2014 the two torched cars and got some money. He helped me get to Turkey, where he spoke with someone to take care of me and send me to a peaceful country.”

"I was in a truck with two other boys, aged 18 and 19 years respectively. We stayed inside for two days and a half. No food. We only had some water and 2-3 apples. We didn’t know where we are, in what country. Not even the driver knew we were inside. If he would have known, he would not have allowed us to get in.”

"In Romania I arrived at Timisoara, I think, but I’m not sure. Then I went to the (refugee) center in Giurgiu, until I received the refugee papers, after which I was sent to a foster school. In Bucharest, Mrs. Luiza and Mrs. Oana took care of me, then the people of JRS.”

"I’ve seen many doctors in Romania, due to my big problem with the leg. I no longer have an important blood vessel. I reached doctor Burnei, who sent me to Medlife to solve the issue with the vein, which no longer transported blood. I didn’t even feel my lower part of the leg, under the shot wound. Now, the feeling is back, I`m better. For the first surgery, the doctor asked for 6,000 euros. I didn’t have the money, but Mrs. Florentina Tincu from JRS, another foundation and children from school helped me. It was really important to me. The first surgery is done, I need a second one so I can walk normally again.”

"School is difficult. I am not able to learn as the others do. I go to classes, but the English, French, Latin courses are very hard for me. I haven’t learned Latin before, I have difficulties understanding it. The physics, the history classes are also very difficult.”

"My colleagues help me a lot with the homework on the WhatsApp group, on Messenger. They know I can’t do the homework correctly by my own, and they help me a lot on the class group.”

"Mrs. Florentina Tincu, JRS, Mrs. Luiza, Mrs. Oana, they all helped me a lot. Not only me, they helped many refugees, they did important things for these people.”

Hassan: "I didn’t leave out of joy. Romania is my country now. Iraq was.”

"I thought about leaving many times, but my mind keeps returning to Romania. I learned the language, now I am in high school, I solved some of the problems with my leg. What was hard is mostly gone. I want to stay here. If I go somewhere else, it would be the same. I would have to learn the language, go to school… the same. I would not have anyone around me, while here I found some very nice people. I am not interested if it’s England, Germany, France, Romania or Iraq. For me, it is only important to be peaceful and if I may go to school, that’s all.”

"The people at the (Child Protection) Agency keep asking me why I left. I didn’t do it out of happiness. I would not have gone if I had a chance. I do also like to stay with my family, in my country, with people that speak the same language. Now I see Romania as my country, as Iraq. Actually, this is my country now, Iraq was.”

"I am always thinking about my future. I want to establish a family, the same as the family I had back in Iraq. And go to school, one cannot do nothing without a school. Even if it is difficult, I want to pass the classes, and go further to a barber school. I know a bit about haircutting, I know perfectly how to tweeze, but I can perfect myself at a specialized school. But now, with this leg, is kind of difficult.”

Cristina Anghel, the manager of the Tudor Vianu high school in Giurgiu

"He is integrating. He goes to a school, he can make friends, someone looks after him, someone is really interested in his medical problems. He has a class master that is really looking after him and tells him he needs to sort his school situation.”

"He integrated also because our students are open, maybe it was also the oddity of having a refugee among them, but children socialize very rapidly. His medical issue made the other students aware and they organized a fundraiser to help him with the surgery, because the needed amount is quite large.”

"Hassan took a test after the year spent as an unattached student.”

"The main issue is his progress with the Romanian language, how much does he understand what is taught in the class. But, from what I’ve heard, he really speaks well Romanian now.”

"He has the power to smile, is a very friendly person, and I think he is also very strong if he is still able to smile after all that he’s been through. He was hurt, lost all his family. Now, here is on his own, trying to rebuild his life.”

Florentina Tincu – JRS

"I met Hassan when he arrived at the refugee center. When he applied for asylum in Romania, he was a vulnerable person, meaning he was an unaccompanied minor, with medical issues, as he was shot in the leg. Firstly, he needed medical attention, he had a bullet wound that needed medical care. I took him to the hospital and visited every day, and helped with all the assistance he needed, be it judicial, medical or material.”

"Hassan is not only a refugee we help integrate. Hassan is our friend, a member of my family, we speak to him as if he has been part of our family for so long. This helps him feel «at home», gives him a sense of belonging. A simple call is enough for me to go where he has issues, being them school problems, housing [the home provided by the Child Protection Agency] problems. He has my number, he has my address, he is practically a member of my family.”

"When we speak to him, we try to picture his life as a future adult and a strong one. Regardless of our unconditional help, he will need to make his own decisions, and manage critical situations all by himself, as our kids will do.”

"According to the Romanian legislation, it is mandatory that all refugee minors are included in the education system. We made a request to the relevant authority and he participated, even with his medical problems.”

"My only issue was with the lack of feedback from the Child Protection Agency. The agency’s doctor consulted Hassan after a very long period, even after the surgery. Only after a month, when I phoned to say it is unacceptable and they need to register him. So, I had no help from the Agency.”

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The route used by refugees coming from the Middle East to Europe has not closed after the migration peak of 2015. The only thing that has happened is that the number of people reaching the wealthier and opportunity-filled West has dropped, as the route has gotten significantly harder than it was during the more favorable context of a few years back.

Some countries have effectively closed their borders, forcing the refugees to go around or simply blocking thousands of people from continuing their journey towards the European dream.

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