A Canine Refugee’s Journey from Syria to Belgium


Stella is six years old, but she wags her tail and jumps around with the enthusiasm of a puppy. In the Brussels apartment of her owner, Bassel Abu Fakher, there is a spacious balcony that she can walk around a bit, but it cannot compete with the freedom of the city’s parks outside the door. The sun is shining and other dogs are racing around in the grass of the botanical garden in the city center. Stella hurries from one encounter to the next. It’s a carefree scene until an airplane flies over it. Then Stella crouches abruptly and makes a heartbreaking, frightening noise.

Bassel’s face tightens as he hugs his dog and tries to comfort her. “Stella is traumatized,” he says sadly. “It’s like with humans: a dog who grew up with war and bombs exploding all over the place carries that stuff around with him for the rest of his life.”

The story of Bassel and Stella reads like a scenario for a Hollywood film. A year ago they lived in Damascus, the capital of Syria. Bassel, who played the cello at an early age, was at the Damascus Conservatory, one of the most renowned music education institutes in the country. He was also a co-founder of the Qotob project to bring musicians together. Because of the war, their neighborhoods became the target of bombs and fighting. Bassel tried to live his life normally; he didn’t want to leave Stella and his parents behind. “I continued to lead Stella around the block, even though it was very dangerous,” he says.

In 2011 the war began in Syria. Millions of people fled and ended up in Turkey, Lebanon and Europe. We don’t know much about the consequences for their pets; These stories are seldom told. Dogs have an even harder time than people who understand the concept of war. But for Stella, life had suddenly become hell.

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