Tony Toumeh, with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Croatia Tony Toumeh, with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Croatia 

World Day of Migrants and Refugees: Tony shares his story of hope

On the 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, Tony shares his harrowing story of migration from Syria to Austria and finally to Croatia, where he serves migrants who are on their way to Western European countries.

By Sr. Nina Benedikta Krapić, VMZ

Tony Toumeh was born in the town of Homs, and is among the young Syrians who decided to leave his country at the beginning of the war in 2011. He first emigrated to neighbouring Lebanon.

“Youth groups were needed for the war," says Tony, in an interview with Vatican News. "I would like to clarify something: it is not the state of war that pushed me to leave my country, but the war was a civil war, where we fight among ourselves as one people.”

From Lebanon, he headed for Western Europe and Austria, carrying only his hope. His month-long journey took him along dangerous paths, sleeping in forests, trains and buses.

He crossed into Turkey and then made his way to Greece on a small, overcrowded boat, which was the most dangerous part of the journey. From Greece, he walked through Macedonia and Serbia.

From Serbia he reached Hungary. “Hungary had a closed border so we slept in the forest and we were waiting for them to open the border,” says Tony. He crossed Croatia and from there he walked to Austria.

Tony Toumeh
Tony Toumeh

Packing only hope

Tony travelled without the very basic necessities for living. He was hungry and tired, and says that only hope kept him alive, "the hope of a safe life, not just for me, but for my family, my parents, my brothers and sisters. They couldn't live in Syria without outside help, because the situation there is very, very bad," he explains.

He waited for six months in Austria to obtain the required documents and in September 2016 was ultimately deported to Croatia where he met good people who helped him, so he decided to settle there.

Today, he is a Croatian citizen. For the past three years, he has been working at the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Zagreb, where he married a colleague. He is now dedicated to helping people on the move who are crossing Croatia. His work consists of helping people whose situation he has recently experienced. "I can give the help I received before," says Tony.

Tony says he has experience a fear of migrants during his time in Europe. "There are people everywhere who accept you and others who don't, in every country. I'd like to say thank you to both, I respect everyone's opinion. At the end of the day, we're all human and I hope we treat each other with humanity."

Tony working with families of migrants and refugees
Tony working with families of migrants and refugees

109th World Day of Migrants

The 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees takes place on Sunday, 24 September 2023.

In his message for this year’s World Day, entitled “Free to choose whether to migrate or to stay”, Pope Francis called for joint efforts by individual countries and the international community to ensure that all enjoy the right not to be forced to emigrate but to live in peace and dignity in one's own country.

“Migrants flee because of poverty, fear or desperation,” said the Pope in his message, reiterating his calls to eliminate these causes.

“This commitment begins with asking what we can do, but also what we need to stop doing,” he said.

During his Apostolic Visit to Marseille on 22-23 September, the Pope emphasized the urgent need to respond to the migration tragedies that have turned the Mediterranean into a "cemetery", with concrete actions, not words, but above all with humanity.

Listen to the full interview
24 September 2023, 08:00