Some came to Mexico fearing they would find more violence. But instead theyve found a new home and a second chance
When they still lived back home in Derik, northern Syria, Silva Hassan Namo and her family would gather each evening around the television to watch the latest episodes of their favourite Mexican telenovelas.
Even after civil war forced them to flee to Iraq, the family would follow the soap operas whenever they could, to escape the grim monotony of life in a refugee camp.
So when Hassan was granted a scholarship to study in Mexico, her family was uneasy about her moving to a country theyd only ever known as the setting for melodramatic tales of revenge, family feuds and mafia bosses.
My dads dream was always for his children to study and become something. But he was scared about me coming to Mexico because he thought it was a country of criminals and marijuana thats what we would see in the TV series and the news, she said.
Hassan is one of 10 young Syrians in Mexico thanks to Project Habesha a small not-for-profit organisation arranging university scholarships for youngsters whose education has been disrupted by the civil war.
Almost half a million Syrians have been killed, with another 11 million forcibly displaced. Only a handful of refugees 39 since 2014, according to immigration figures have reached Mexico independently, but that is likely to change thanks to Project Habesha.
Hassan, the second female student to be picked so far, arrived in March with her husband, Jack Mohammed, 24. Neither of them spoke a word of Spanish, but she describes the experience as a rebirth.
Imagine youre dead and someone gives you a miracle cure. Thats what coming to Mexico feels like, like Ive been born again, said Hassan.
This is what Syria was like before the war
Her new home, Aguascalientes, is a small industrial city in north-central Mexico of a million people, best known for its Nissan plant and arid desert heat.
The couple live in a newly refurbished apartment in a small gated complex, which has become the groups social hub.
Hassan puts on her hijab before opening the door to Zain and Hazem, two of the male students who arrived last summer and live across town. She started wearing the headscarf after getting married, and for her its an integral part of being a Muslim woman.
Im the only woman wearing hijab among millions of Mexicans and people do look at me, but its important to my religion, she said.
Tonight the students are sharing makdous aubergines stuffed with walnuts, garlic and chilli, pickled in olive oil while bickering good naturedly about whether Aleppo or Damascus has the best cuisine.
They bemoan the lack of halal and popularity of pork in Mexican street food. Food is a recurrent topic of conversation; politics is not.