The Current

Teen Syrian refugee recounts journey to Germany in wheelchair

In a way, she's just a face in the crowd — one of millions of Syrian refugees who have fled their home in search of a better life. But young Nujeen Mustafa made her escape in a wheelchair and says next she'd like to head to the moon.
'You never know what you are capable of doing until you try,' says Nujeen Mustafa who shares her journey from Syria to Germany in a wheelchair in her book, Nujeen: One Girl's Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair. (©ChrisFloyd)

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Like millions of Syrians, Nujeen Mustafa was forced to flee her country from the civil war. 

Facing death at home, the teenager and her older sister went to Turkey, then made the perilous sea crossing of the Mediterranean to Greece, continued up through Macedonia to Serbia and Hungary, and finally to Germany, where she lives today. 

"You never know what you are capable of doing until you try,"  Mustafa tells The Current's guest host Ing Wong-Ward. 

But Mustafa's journey was more difficult than most: she has cerebral palsy and used a wheelchair. And she refuses to let her disability deter or discourage her. 

"I thought of it as an opportunity and as an adventure," says Mustafa. 

"I would have regretted had I not done that...I would have asked myself later, why didn't you look around at the landscapes? Why didn't you look around at the mountains?" 

But despite her positive attitude, the 16-month voyage did take its toll on Mustafa. It wasn't long before she began feeling discriminated against for being a refugee, made even worse by her disability. 

"You feel that you are unwelcome, that you are someone that everyone wants to get rid of," says Nujeen.

"It's just an awful feeling." 

Mustafa did eventually make it to Germany, where she now goes to school in Cologne. She was never able to attend school in Syria, and because she lived on the fifth floor of a building without an elevator, she rarely left her home. She taught herself English by watching the TV show Days Of Our Lives

Mustafa describes her life in Germany as "absolutely normal" — which is a nice change of pace. 

"I have matured in many ways because of what happened in Syria and because of the journey," 

"I've learned to appreciate what I have, because not everyone in the world is as lucky as I am." 

Listen to the full interview at the top of this web post. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Shannon Higgins