The world’s fathers: Inspiring stories of refugee fatherhood

Abdelsalam and his family fled brutal fighting in his homeland of Syria and now call Lebanon home. ©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

By Hannah Scott

Over half of the world’s refugees are under the age of 18 — children who have been uprooted from their homes due to conflict, persecution, and violence. For many, their fathers have shown incredible bravery and resilience as they seek a safer life for their children. Refugee dads care for their loved ones while facing extraordinary obstacles. Here are five stories about the incredible love and dedication of these incredible men.

“My advice to the men out there is to love your families:” Valens finds safety for his wife and children

Valens (38) lives in Rwamwanja Refugee Settlement with his wife and three children. © UNHCR / Vincent Tremeau

When Valens realized his family was in danger, he took immediate action to save the lives of his wife and children. Deadly violence threatened his village in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and his brother was abducted by one of the militias. “That’s the day we decided to flee,” Valens says. Valens and his wife escaped in the middle of the night with their newborn baby and two other children. Valens walked with their three-year-old son on his back for three days as they searched for safety. Eventually, Valens’ family reached Uganda where they were able to receive help. UNHCR provided Valens’ family with shelter, warm meals, and land for them to farm. When asked about what advice he would offer to fathers around the world, Valens says: “Whether good times or bad times, love one another and persist through all challenges.”

“It’s important to be educated:” The duty of a Rohingya father and teacher

Portrait of Amirul Mumeen (46) with his children in front of the family shelter in Nayapara camp (also called Camp 26), Teknaf, Bangladesh. © UNHCR/Vincent Tremeau

Being a teacher is hard — and so is being a father. But Amirul, a Rohingya refugee now living with his family in Bangladesh, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“According to the Rohingya way, a father has the responsibility to look after his family, so they may live in peace. This is what compels me to be a good father.”

Amirul and his family were among tens of thousands of Rohingya who fled Myanmar in 2017 due to an upsurge of violence. As part of the Rohingya people — a religious minority in Myanmar — his family faced conflict and discrimination. His children weren’t able to go to school. Now, Amirul is working hard to make sure his kids — and all children in the camp — are taught and looks after. He spends his days teaching in the Bangladesh refugee camp in which his family resides.

“It’s important to be educated. We need to educate more,” Amirul says. “I teach them like my own children. With even more effort! I want them to develop.”

A life free from fear: A Sudanese father’s dreams for his child

Ahmed Ishag Babiker, 54, sits in his compound in Kabkabiya town in North Darfur, Sudan, with his children. © UNHCR/Will Swanson

After nearly two decades of conflict in Sudan, 1.6 million people, including Ahmed, are unable to return home. Ahmed recalls the harrowing day 17 years ago when his village was attacked.

“We were seated under a tree when suddenly we heard gunshots… I ran towards the house to look for my children,” the 54-year-old father of six remembered.

Ahmed took his children and ran to the mountains, where they hid for several days. Eventually, he was able to escape and look for work in order to support his family, as he still does to this day. Internally displaced in his country, he dreams for a life free of fear for his children. “I swear if there is peace, I can go back right now. We will go back so that we can live the way we used to.”

Somali graduate student works to make a difference for his family

Abdikadir dreams for his daughters to one day also attend university. © UNHCR/Anthony Karumba

Abdikadir has never seen Toronto’s York University in person, yet distance proved to be no barrier for the recent graduate and father of three. In June 2020, Abdikadir received his Master’s of Education virtually from Kenya’s Dadaab Refugee Camp, leaving the university experience with more than just a degree. He benefited classmates in both Canada and Kenya, while building a future for his family. Through his education and involvement in student council, he has inspired young refugees like his three daughters by sharing his voice and knowledge. Abdikadir has high hopes for his future and that of his children. “I will be one of the luckiest fathers, if I educate my daughters.”

Syrian father of eight fights to reunite with his family

The Al-Bashawats pose for a family portrait in their new home in Vienna. © UNHCR/Stefanie J. Steindl

Jobless in a refugee camp in Jordan, Mahmoud, a Syrian refugee, knew he had to do something to secure his family’s future. Leaving his wife, seven daughters, and a young son behind, he set off alone for Europe, hoping to find a safer home for them.

“I couldn’t see any future for them. Our future was shattered in the ruins of Syria,” Mahmoud says.

For 2 ½ years, Mahmoud was separated from his family as he travelled to Europe. After gaining refugee status in Austria, Mahmoud began the long process of applying for family reunification. With the help of UNHCR, Mahmoud was able to bring his entire family to Vienna. “Thank God we are together, with a fresh start,” Mahmoud says.

Help support refugee dads this UNFather’s Day! With so much going on in our world this year, visit UNHCR Canada’s Shop page to find a different gift idea — something to make your dad proud. Donate to a refugee father in your dad’s name. Shop now.

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The UN Refugee Agency in Canada is dedicated to providing life-saving support to refugees, displaced and stateless people.