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Syrian refugees find unlikely home amid volcanoes, glaciers

By Agence France-presse in Reykjavik | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-03 08:09

The wind blows in icy gusts and the rain gently melts the snow: welcome to Iceland! Far from their hometown Damascus, Joumaa Naser and his family don't mind the Arctic cold, they're just happy to be living in safety.

With 330,000 inhabitants surrounded by volcanoes, glaciers and geysers, Iceland is an unusual destination for refugees fleeing war in Syria.

But since 2015, 118 Syrians have found hope for a new and tranquil life in the Nordic nation.

Many of them lived in Lebanon for several years before coming to the land of ice and fire, sent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Most of them have settled in the capital Reykjavik and its surroundings, while others are beginning their new lives in Akureyri in the north of the country, 70 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Akureyri is where Joumaa, his wife and their five children now call home.

The state finances their rent for one year and pays them an allowance for daily expenses. The Red Cross meanwhile finances Icelandic language classes and cultural courses.

Speaking Icelandic is the main obstacle for Joumaa, sporting a finely trimmed mustache and bundled up in a down jacket, his words translated by an interpreter.

Does the harsh Nordic climate bother him? Not so much.

"We're able to adapt to any conditions here, whether they're easy or difficult, we can live with them," he said.

"It's only the language that is a bit complicated. We need time to become fully adapted."

But Joumaa's children, including his son Amjad, are picking up the language faster.

Making friends and playing local sports like football have helped them adapt to their new homeland.

"I like Iceland because it's very nice and there are very nice people. Here we like the snow because in Syria, maybe you'll see the snow but maybe not," Amjad says with a laugh as he throws himself down to make a snow angel.

On the other side of the North Atlantic island, in a residential suburb of Reykjavik, live Mustafa and Basma.

In their modern and soberly decorated two-room apartment of 50 square meters, located just a stone's throw from the ocean, the couple enjoy their newfound security, far from the chaos of Latakia, the Mediterranean port city in Syria which they fled.

"They (Icelanders) welcomed us in a very nice way," says 30-year-old Mustafa Akra.

The couple knew little or nothing about their new home before coming.

"We had never heard of Iceland before arriving here. We barely knew where it was!", explains Basma, who wears a hijab.

The family is set to grow, as Basma is expected to give birth to their first child, a boy, in the coming weeks.

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