Thursday 21 September 2017

WATCH: Game of Thrones star Liam Cunningham reunites with Syrian refugee building a new life for himself in Europe

Games of Thrones star Liam Cunningham smiles together with his supporter Syrian migrant Hussam Alheraky as he made a surprise vist in Stuttgart, Germany, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Games of Thrones star Liam Cunningham smiles together with his supporter Syrian migrant Hussam Alheraky as he made a surprise vist in Stuttgart, Germany, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Games of Thrones star Liam Cunningham smiles together with his supporter Syrian migrant Hussam Alheraky as he made a surprise vist in Stuttgart, Germany, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV

Sasha Brady

Game of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham paid a surprise visit to a Syrian student who is now living in Stuttgart, a month after first meeting him in a refugee camp in Jordan.

The pair became friends when the Irish actor visited a refugee camp in the city of Irbid in September, as part of a project by World Vision to highlight the plight of refugees.

They continued to stay in touch and when Hussam (16) travelled to Stuttgart on Tuesday, after being granted a German visa, Cunningham used the only days he had off from his Game of Thrones filming schedule to surprise him.

"He nearly collapsed when he saw me," the Irish actor told Independent.ie. "I crept up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. He didn't expect it at all. We'd stayed in touch after Jordan and he sent me photos of his passport as soon as he got the good news. He was just so delighted. He'd never been on a plane before."

The 16-year-old left Syria after missiles struck his school during his final exams, killing and wounding his friends and teachers.

"He had to pull some of his friends from the rubble. He witnessed children that he grew up with, children that he played with, die right in front of him," said Cunningham.

Despite the horror that he witnessed, the Game of Thrones star said Hussam is concentrating on building his future and is a "remarkably positive person".

According to World Vision, Hussam escaped to Jordan where he taught himself English using his mobile phone in a refugee camp there. He was separated from his dad, who traveled to Germany, and he worked with his mother to be reunited with him. Hussam was so determined to get to Germany - in the hope that he could return to school some day - that he also taught himself German using the same mobile phone.

Games of Thrones star Liam Cunningham smiles together with his supporter Syrian migrant Hussam Alheraky as he made a surprise vist in Stuttgart, Germany, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV
Games of Thrones star Liam Cunningham smiles together with his supporter Syrian migrant Hussam Alheraky as he made a surprise vist in Stuttgart, Germany, October 11, 2016. REUTERS/Reuters TV

Cunningham said that he is inspired by the young boy's determination: "Hussam taught himself English online, and now he’s learning German. He told me about how his friends died, family members died, but he won't let it get at him," he said.

"He has this incredible self-belief for someone so young. The horrors in Syria won't take away his humanity. He hopes to go back and rebuild his country one day."

Hussam is one of more than four million Syrians who have fled the country's war. For those who have managed to escape, and those who are trapped behind, their childhood is scarred by years of conflict, discrimination and displacement as they become trivial pawns in a futile and turbulent war.

"The real danger here is that children are missing out on an education. They're becoming angry by the violence that they're witnessing and, without an education, they're ripe for recruitment by groups like ISIS. Without the knowledge, how are they to know any better? Denying these children of their right to an education will only make the situation worse," said Cunningham.

Game of Thrones cast members Liam Cunningham, Maisie Williams and Lena Headey visiting IRC programmes at Diavata refugee site in northern Greece
Game of Thrones cast members Liam Cunningham, Maisie Williams and Lena Headey visiting IRC programmes at Diavata refugee site in northern Greece

Before the war, nearly all children in Syria attended school, but enrolment rates have dropped to an average of 50 percent, according to reports in the Guardian.

Fortunately Hussam can now look forward to a better future, thanks to the efforts of the German people, and Cunningham is urging the Irish government to follow their example and accelerate efforts to help Syrian refugees.

"The government are just sitting on their hands, they need to get up off their a**ses and stop making excuses. Irish people do care. Their voices are ignored by the people in power but there's real empathy there. We need a stronger political will. We need to demand that they listen. We pay their wages."

He added: "It's not all doom and gloom. Positive stories like Hussam's prove that people can make a difference.

"But this war started in 2011 and five years later it's not getting any better, it's getting worse, and the situation won't improve until the bombs stop dropping."

Click here if you want to help or donate to World Vision.

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