Baynana is a new publication hitting the digital newsstands in Spain. However, it is a publication with a difference. Published in both Spanish and Arabic, Baynana is run entirely by refugees with the aim of reporting on culture, politics, sports and to fight the negative stigma attached to being a refugee by publishing stories of success.
The refugees in question, Okba Mohamad, 22, Mohammed Shubat, 31, Moussa Mohammed Al-Jumaat, 29, and Ayham Ghareeb, 32, became seasoned journalists from a young age, reporting on the horrors of the Syrian civil war and taking on assignments no journalist from the West would dare dream of. They worked freelance for different international news outlets in a bid to show the world what was happening in Syria.
“Baynana means: among us all, women and men, the meaning of inclusion, to include all groups and all refugees, as we are on the same road,” explains Okba, “It also has a good meaning in Spanish too, and the Spanish people liked it; the wider meaning of it is that ‘we have no difference between us, we are all one’.”
“In the beginning, the image of the refugees here was very negative, but we tried to change this image through Twitter, this encouraged us to be more organised and set up a magazine, and share the real image of refugees, and share what is happening in the Arab world with Spain, and also share what is happening in Spain with the Arab world,” says Mohammed.
Okba, Mohammed, and Moussa arrived in Spain on the same plane with 12 other Syrian journalists as part of a deal brokered by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). They describe feeling safe the second they stepped off the plane in Madrid.
“With the offer of help from the CPJ we were able to travel to Spain, because in Turkey our life wasn’t stable, because we didn’t have any official documents, we were dealt with as irregular migrants, and the other friends who were in the north of Syria were in danger,” explains Muhammad. “Some of us were in the north of Syria, which was one of the most dangerous places in the world, like Moussa and his wife, so leaving there to Spain was a big thing, the feeling of safety.”
They were received at the airport and felt they would have access to the support they needed to set up their new lives.
However, a month after arriving, the reality of living in this new country as refugees began to set in. “It was a good feeling when I reached Spain, but it didn’t last long. We were surprised by lots of obstacles that faced us,” recalls Okba.
Being a refugee came with its own limitations; the language barrier, obtaining official papers, renting a home were just a few. The negative attitude towards refugees that they encountered was their inspiration for Baynana.
As journalists who worked in Syria during the war, they describe losing their sense of fear. Injuries were part of the job while walking into risky and dangerous situations was the norm.
Moussa says. “We had some fear for our family members, especially those who have children, that was our only worry.”
We work in journalism, so basically the journalist can be in risky situations, so for me personally I lost the feeling of fear, it was dead because I saw a lot, strikes, bombings, destruction, dead bodies. So the fear inside us died
The fear of arrest far outweighed the fear of the heavy bombardment by the Syrian regime and Russian forces. “The camera was much more dangerous and worrying to the Syrian regime than the weapon,” Mohammed says. Their jobs as journalists in one of the most volatile regions in the world left them vulnerable to arrests and the prospect of being disappeared by the Assad regime after their neighbourhood was taken over. The regime, Mohammed explains, would take revenge using a person’s wife or children, or other relatives.
Despite all talk of human rights and dignity, Mohammed says Europe does not put its money where its mouth is. “Europe always talks about human rights, but what we saw on the ground is completely different, Immigration policies in dealing with refugees are very bad and should be changed. They talk about human rights, but at the same time we see refugees drowning at sea,” he adds. “In general, the Spanish immigration policy is very harsh with refugees.”
We did not come here by choice, it is not a desire to leave our country, we were forced to, and now we aim to achieve success and help the economy of the countries in which we are located.
Although currently run by volunteers on a donations basis, the group is ambitious about where they would like Baynana to go.
“We are trying to be influential in the Spanish press, to be the true voice of the refugees and to reach all of the Spanish surroundings, to be bigger and bigger, we are currently only four people, but now we are opening the chances of volunteering for coverage in all of Europe, not only in Spain,” Mohammed says.