Syed Hasnain (right) and Carmine Calabrese were reunited, 13 years after they first met | Photo: Campania Regional Council
Syed Hasnain (right) and Carmine Calabrese were reunited, 13 years after they first met | Photo: Campania Regional Council

When Afghan refugee Syed first arrived in Italy, he was freezing, scared and alone. A local pizza baker offered him help -- food, clean clothes and a bed to sleep in. 13 years later, Syed was able to reunite with his good samaritan.

A long, strong, and emotional hug -- that's how 30-year-old Afghan refugee Syed Hasnain thanked Carmine Calabrese. When Syed first arrived in Italy 13 years ago,  the pizza baker was the first person to offer him help, after a long and harrowing journey. 

Syed was just 10 years old when he fled his home in Afghanistan, because he did not want to become a jihadist militant. He set off on an eight-year odyssey across Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Greece. He was smuggled into Italy hidden in a truck. Syed ended up in the countryside in south-central Italy, in the small town of Torrecuso, in the middle of winter. When Carmine saw Syed -- a teenager, distraught and alone -- he took him in for the night. He gave him food, the possibility to wash up, clean clothes and a bed to sleep in.

'Refugees can be a resource'

This gesture of kindness was very meaningful to Syed. After that night, the two men lost touch -- but Syed still remembered the kind-hearted pizza baker fondly. So much so that he contacted the team of the TV program Chi l'ha visto? ('Who has seen this person?') -- who helped him reunite with his good samaritan. 

After 13 years, the two men reunited on January 24. "People in Italy have a big heart, many are open and trust those who are looking for help and shelter, but there are political parties and politicians who exploit migration and want to see it as a threat," Syed said. "If we refugees could speak for ourselves and tell our stories, people would understand that we aren't criminals and we can be a resource." 

Today, Syed lives in Rome with his wife and four-year old son. He recently graduated from Rome's La Sapienza University with a degree in political science. And he is the founder and president of "Unire," a national refugee association. 

Helping other asylum seekers

But life in Italy was not always easy for Syed -- at one point, he even experienced homelessness. During those hard times, the memory of the kind pizza baker helped him push through and motivated him to help others. "Carmine's welcoming gesture of hospitality pushed me to stay in this wonderful country," Syed said. 

Now, Syed's goal is to work on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. "Unfortunately, over time the number of people who have fled has increased, including due to the various conflicts that in some way depend also on us," he said.

On Friday, Syed was welcomed at the Campania regional council. "Gestures [like Carmine Calabrese's] remind us that welcoming is important," said Chiara Marciani, the councillor for equal opportunities. Regional Councillor Erasmo Mortaruolo said that the story of Syed and Carmine was "a beautiful story that... shows that Italy can be a country of welcoming, of people who practice the values of civility, and for those who arrive, a country of opportunities." 

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