Proyecto Habesha: When Mexico Cares for Syrian Refugees

Flickr/CC/Surian Soosay

By Santiago Martínez

The Syrian refugee crisis has been making headlines ever since young Aylan’s picture spread like wildfire all over the Internet. Since then, countries from all over the world have expressed their solidarity towards the crisis: the EU has mobilized to change their refugee-admittance policy, Middle Eastern countries accept more and more refugees each day, and even Latin American countries have pronounced their desire to accept more refugees. However, Adrián Meléndez did not wait for it to be a trending topic before taking action.. He has created a project called “Proyecto Habesha”, an initiative dedicated to bring student refugees from Syria to finish their higher education in Mexico.

(Credit: Gapminder Foundation

How it all started

Adrián is a young lawyer from Aguascalientes, Mexico, who studied at  Universidad Panamericana (UP) and got a Masters Degree in International Law and Political Science in Lyon, France. He worked in conflict zones with diverse international agencies in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Iraq. His experiences with Syrian refugees, especially in Iraq, prompted him to push forward a humanitarian effort to help young Syrians have an opportunity to continue their professional desires.  He partnered with other local organizations to launch the project and has been an avid spokesman in universities, radio stations, and television, trying to bring attention to the issue since 2014.

What does it do?

The organization’s main goal is to bring 30 Syrian students whose studies were interrupted to Mexico to finish their degrees. They will receive full scholarships, medical insurance and a monthly stipend. “Proyecto Habesha” has talked with the top universities in the country, from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) UP, Tec de Monterrey, and others about providing scholarships, residence, or professional services. The objective is to show solidarity to the extreme crisis going on in Syria while also promoting intercultural dialog between the two nations.

Another important part of the labor of the organization is to raise awareness on the Syrian Crisis in Mexico, as it partners with research centers and universities to provide analysis and studies on the matter. Through a heavy communication campaign, they try to spread the findings, while also appealing to the solidarity to the Mexican people.  

Flickr/CC/Esparta Palma
Flickr/CC/Esparta Palma

A country of refugees

“Proyecto Habesha” appeals to the Mexico’s tradition as a refugee haven, as they have shown in several instances throughout history their solidarity towards war-affected migrants. In the 30s, Mexico accepted a large influx of Spanish immigrants fleeing the country’s bloody civil war; in the 70s Mexico took in South American escapees from military dictatorships, especially Chile and Argentina; and even during the Second World War Mexico received immigrants pursued by the Nazi regime coming from Poland, Germany and Austria.

The project also appeals to the enormous economic capacity that Mexico boasts of, being among the 15 largest economies in the world, while also seeking more international recognition. This can be an opportunity for Mexico to be involved in the international agenda.

With this history of political and social asylum, and its economic and territorial capacity “Proyecto Habesha” expects that Mexico will show international solidarity from both the governmental level and the citizen’s perspective.

Who are these 30 students?

Currently, the effort is focused on bringing  30 students that have been selected based on the universities’ and the government’s standard. These students reside in different parts on the world, like Turkey, Lebanon and even Italy.

They all have compelling stories to tell, and here are some of them.

The first one to step on Mexican soil is Essa Hassan, who arrived on September 17, 2015. He decided to flee Syria, fearing that the army would recruit him to fight in the war. As a student, he experienced the 2011 protests and the oppression that ensued. He fled to Turkey, Lebanon, and eventually ended up in Rome, Italy. He wants to pursue his studies in the Social Engineering.

Abdul-Qader Saleh Mohammed is another student that has been selected for the program. His Kurdish background made him a potential recruit for both a Kurdish nationalist group and the national Syrian army. He studied in Damascus University, but violence, death and potential recruitment pushed him and his family to Iraq. Now, he wants to rebuild his country by pursuing an Engineering degree.  

Jessica Alakhras, only 19 years old, has an insatiable thirst for knowledge. She had one of the best grade averages in the country from high school and seeks to continue her studies. However, continuing bombing and blockades have prevented her from continuing her Information Technology degree in Damascus University. In Mexico, she wants to study Business Management.  

#EnMéxicoSePuede (#InMexicoWeCan)

This hashtag is the motto for the organization, stating that even a country with its own problems, such as cartel violence, corruption and inequality, can respond with international solidarity. Journalists, media personalities and regular people believe that Mexico can indeed receive Syrian refugees.


Flickr/CC/Arian Zwegers | Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
Flickr/CC/Arian Zwegers | Umayyad Mosque, Damascus
Flickr/CC/Antony Stanley | Zocalo, Mexico City
Flickr/CC/Antony Stanley | Zocalo, Mexico City






There has recently been more civil action, such as a petition requested the reception of an additional 10,000 refugees in the country, an initiative that was also backed by some deputies from the National Congress. The National Congress has also passed  an agreement that pressures the president to provide a political stance on the issue. Either way, the inspiring story of a young lawyer that extended his hand across the globe is a lesson to us all.