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Twenty-six-year-old Mohammad B. left his home country
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Date published: 9/30/2012
CAIRO, Egypt--Syrian refugee Mohammad B.'s passport expired a few weeks ago, making official what he has long known: He no longer has a country.
The 26-year-old had nowhere to renew his passport. The Syrian embassy in Cairo was closed after protests. The embassies in Libya and Tunisia had switched loyalty to the opposition and could no longer issue passports. And the embassy in Algeria simply told him to go back to Syria.
That was not an option.
In Syria, Mohammad had been studying to become an English teacher. He fled in May 2011 after he was shot in Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising. The bullet pierced his upper lip, broke his teeth, ripped through his cheekbone and exited near his temple. The deep, jagged wound identified him as an anti-government protester, which in Syria marked him for death.
At first, all the protesters wanted was a new mayor and better amenities. Mohammad was hopeful.
"I didn't want to leave my country, I wanted it to get better," says the softspoken young man with a ponytail and a right eye that droops slightly from his wound. He uses only his first name because he fears for the safety of his parents, both government employees in Daraa.
On April 25, the military clamped off the main road into Daraa. Then, he says, security forces started firing into the crowd of about 50 people with large machine guns.
A bullet sliced Mohammad's lip. He waved his hands for help, and a car came to his aid. A cellphone video he was shooting at the time, seen by The Associated Press, records the sound of a hail of bullets popping off the metal.
"It was very painful," Mohammad recalls. "I thought: Today is my last day. And the driver thought I was dead."
When he got home, his family fled to hide with relatives in the countryside. He stayed in bed for a week, unable to eat. Then he made the most difficult decision of his life: He had to leave Syria immediately.
He had never left Syria before. He chose Egypt because he would not need a visa, and knew a friend there.
Egypt does not share a border with Syria, and only about 1,700 Syrian refugees have registered there, according to the United Nations' refugee agency. However, the agency estimates the real number is closer to 95,000.