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About Doaa

When Doaa was 16 years old, she and her family fled their home in Daraa, Syria, as war began to tear apart the city. For several years, the Al Zamel Abo Nout family found refuge in Egypt, but living conditions worsened.

In 2014, her former fiancé, Basem, decided to risk the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean to Europe. Doaa was 19 years old.

Doaa recalls: “We handed some smugglers everything we had, including our lives. They put us on a rusty old fishing boat with 500 other men, women and children. After four days at sea our boat was rammed by a ship with angry men on it. They yelled insults at us as the boat began to sink.”

Chaos ensued as passengers fought for their lives in the icy sea which turned red from the dismembered bodies of those who had been caught in the boat’s propellers.

Doaa remembers: “Bassem found a small inflatable ring and had me get in while he held on to the side to stay afloat. On day two in the sea, I noticed that Bassem was growing weaker. His skin was turning blue. I wondered if we would ever be rescued when an old man swam over and handed me his 9-month-old granddaughter. Her name was Malak.”

Awaiting rescue, Doaa floated helplessly in the sea while hundreds of people perished around her. Bassem eventually lost his strength and drowned.

Shortly after Bassem died, a woman swam up to Doaa, asking her to take her 18-month-old baby daughter, Masa. “When I held her and Malak, I knew that no matter how scared, tired and heartbroken I was, I had to do everything I could to keep these two little girls alive,” Doaa says.

I knew that no matter how scared, tired and heartbroken I was, I had to do everything I could to keep these two little girls alive.

Doaa Al Zamel Abo Nout

After four days in brutal conditions, the few remaining survivors were discovered and taken to safety. Malak died aboard the rescue ship. Of the original 500 passengers, only 11 survived.

Doaa was immediately credited with having saved the life of little Masa.

After hearing of this incredible case, Melissa Fleming, then Chief Spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), met with Doaa and then worked with Doaa to create the inspiring account: A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival. Published by Flatiron Books in 2017, the book has been translated into numerous languages and won multiple awards.

Doaa and some of her family members were eventually reunited in Sweden, thanks to the resettlement program of UNHCR. Unfortunately, as is the case for many refugee families, Doaa remains separated from her other siblings who remain scattered in different countries and without the legal right to travel.

Doaa has gone on to receive acclaim, such as from the Academy of Athens in 2014 and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) in 2016. She is a sought-after speaker not only on refugee and migration issues but also on resilience, human rights, and education.