I was holding my breath.
The 11 Syrian journalists I had escorted to the airport were lined up at the Passport Control office in the Istanbul airport. This was the last step, the last hurdle, before they could board a plane to Madrid, to safety, to freedom. But I knew not to get too excited. The sleepless nights, the endless misunderstandings and miscommunications, and the never-ending discussions with Turkish migration officials had taught me better. And the plane was leaving in 15 minutes.
One at a time, I watched as each journalist left the office. And then I got a text message: Everyone was on the plane!
This was it. This was the end of 10 months of tireless work by our staff at the Committee to Protect Journalists and our partners to help relocate nearly 70 journalists. All of the journalists and their families had been stuck in Syria, stranded and fearing for their lives. Now, they were on their way to France, Germany, and Spain, thanks to our relentless petitioning to allow them entry. The United Nations was indispensable too – they helped us coordinate these diplomatic efforts.
I had brought these 11 journalists to the airport so they could fly to Spain. Some of them were on tenterhooks, besides themselves at the prospect of seeing their families again. Nour al-Rifaai was one of them. He was a reporter for the Syrian broadcaster Al-Jisr and had spent a month in an Idlib jail run by the militant group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. He was accused of spying for foreign powers simply because he had my name in his cellphone. His colleague, Mohamad Rajaai, a stringer for The Intercept and The Economist who had survived the siege of Madaya and the relentless shelling by forces aligned with Bashar al-Assad, was also on the flight. He, too, was headed to Spain.
It was a good day. But it was just one day.