Limbless Syrian boy in iconic photo starts new life in Italy

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The award-winning picture of Munzir El Nezzel playfully lifting Mustafa, his son who was born without limbs, has given the family a shot at a new life after becoming a poignant symbol of the plight of war-torn Syria.

The shocking yet tender picture taken by Turkish photographer Mehmet Aslan, titled Hardship of Life, captured an intimate moment of affection between a father and son whose bodies have been maimed by the brutal conflict.

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Six-year-old Mustafa was born with a congenital disorder caused by medications his mother took while pregnant after being sickened by nerve gas. His 35-year-old father had his leg amputated following a bomb attack in Syria.

After being declared photo of the year at the Siena International Photo Awards (SIPA) last year and making headlines in Italy, it sparked crowdfunding efforts that raised about 100,000 euros ($114,000) to provide both father and son with prosthetic limbs.

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The organisers of the photography festival then asked the Catholic diocese to take up the task of handling paperwork, providing financial support, and seeking a visa on humanitarian grounds in compliance with Italy’s sponsorship requirements.

Mustafa landed in Rome’s Fiumicino Airport on Friday, accompanied by his father, mother and his two sisters, ages one and four. The family will be resettled in Siena, a city in central Italy’s Tuscany region distinguished by its medieval brick buildings and home to the photography festival.

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Limbless Syrian boy in iconic photo starts new life in Italy
© Provided by Al Jazeera Munzir El Nezzel holds his son Mustafa upon their arrival at in Rome [Alessandra Tarantino/AP]

In a video message recorded before taking off from Ankara to fly to Italy, Mustafa expressed his gratitude. “We are coming, thank you,” he said. “We love Italia.”

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica prior to the family’s departure from Reyhanli, along the Turkish border with Syria, El Nezzel said he was grateful for the possibility of sending his children to school.

But he said his biggest wish was to one day be able to see his child stand up on artificial legs.

“I hope to receive his hug, even if it is a hug with prosthesis,” El Nezzel said. “This is what matters to me the most.”

Prosthetic experts at the Centro Protesi Inail in Vigorso di Budrio, northern Italy, will design artificial limbs to help Mustafa gain mobility, according to The New York Times.

Mustafa is currently unable to walk independently and will need long-term treatment to be self-sufficient. Specialists quoted by the American newspaper said that, while treating the child would be challenging, the father could recover most of his mobility in a few weeks.

The Diocese of Siena will be in charge of welcoming the family. “We are waiting for Mustafa and his family,” Cardinal Paolo Lojudice told local media.

Luca Venturi, the founder of the photography award who launched the crowdfunding campaign, was awaiting the family at the airport in Rome.

“When we had confirmation of their arrival we screamed for joy,” he told La Repubblica. “We never thought we would get to see this day.”

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