For many in the Caucasus, Abkhazia symbolizes conflict. But for 21-year-old Syrian refugee Alexandra Kanbar and her 23-year-old brother, Ahmad, this Black Sea territory is all about a fresh start.
In 2012, when war broke out in Syria, their family fled Damascus for Abkhazia’s main town, Sukhum, where a relative lives.
Eager to boost its population after its 1992-1993 war with Tbilisi, Abkhazia has made a point of welcoming refugees from Syria. Hundreds of Syrians, many of them Diaspora Abkhaz, have migrated to the subtropical region since 2012.
But assimilation is not always easy.
Aside from overcoming the language barrier, the Kanbars’ family of eight had to fit inside a two-room apartment. To make room, Alexandra and Ahmad went to live in a public boarding school.
Abkhazia’s Repatriation Committee, which works with Syrian refugees, eventually gave the family a new house. Their children enrolled in school and university.
Alexandra and Ahmad, not fluent Russian speakers, had to abandon their dreams of becoming a doctor and engineer, however. Now, they both study English philology at Abkhaz State University.
They have safety and some stability. But what the future will bring is unclear.