A few friends and I were on a weekend holiday during Ramadan in Turkey. We’d taken the bus from Istanbul to Izmir and arrived there at around 4 in the morning, That’s when this really tired looking guy approached us. All he did was ask us the time. That was my first meeting with Nabeel.
To hear the story of a refugee first hand is a completely different feeling. The gravity of what he and his people have been through is not understood by people away from the conflict.
His plan was to get in touch with some friends of his in Izmir who would put him onto a inflatable boat with others like him and he’d then make his way across the Aegian Sea to Greece. He told us he would then walk through Hungary, Poland or whichever other country he had to use, to get to either Norway or Germany, where he had already secured a job through some friends. All this with no money, no visa and no passport.
We ran into him completely by chance a few days later, a couple of hours before he was to set sail. I remember wondering if I would ever hear from him again…
A year and a half after meeting him, I received a friend request on Facebook. It was him! He had made it to Germany! And even settled into his new life well.
I’d like to share his story:
Tell me about your life before the war? What was it like?
It was a normal life. I came from a middle class family. I had the typical Syrian dream, or whatever you’d call a dream when you’re living under a dictatorship. The best that any one of us could have was to graduate from university and have a decent job. Live a lazy slow life, get a family, and settle down. I can’t say whether it was bad or good? But it was stable.
What made you want to leave Syria? What was the crucial moment that made you finally decide?
The story is slightly more complicated. In order to get a job with any oil or geological company you need to first do your mandatory military service. So I decided to finish that after my studies to get a job later. When I went to the army everything was alright. Well, not alright alright… So after I finished my physical training, things had started to get complicated. I’d hoped that since I only had to serve for one year, I could leave and get a job, but nobody expected things to accelerate so quickly. I did my time in the army, but they refused to discharge me. I was not part of the infantry. I was more with the electronics. Nobody had any doubt that this was a dirty war and what the regime was doing was not ethically acceptable. Everyone around was planning to leave as soon as possible. Some friends volunteered to protect me through Syria to the borders. There was no critical moment actually. It was building up more and more and I couldn’t do it anymore. Then suddenly I had a vacation for 6 days and I decided I would never go back. I made my way to the Jordanian border. Took me about 2 months… It was a tough 2 months… the most dangerous time in my life.
What about your family? Have you heard from them?
I make it to Jordan where I stay for 2 years and 8 months. I had lost contact with my family for the two months I was moving inside Syria, It was more for their safety as well as my own. After I got to Jordan I got a new number and I contacted them. I used to contact them via skype… but I can’t anymore.
Describe your journey from Syria to Germany.
The hardest part of the journey was from Damascus to the Jordanian border. I was moving under the protection of different groups, but all these troops were strict Muslims, radicals. Since I was an atheist and my family came from a city of a majority of Shia Muslims I was scared for my life every day. At the border I needed documents. Fake documents because I could not use my originals. So I faked some documents and made it across into Jordan.
The documents let me stay for 2 years. I’d even issued a passport but later found that it was a fake and that I’d ben scammed. I had paid 2000 USD for a fake passport. Fortunately, some friends renewed my old passport and which had expired long back and I hadn’t know that is was still usable. I left Jordan and flew to Turkey and from here I took the classic way by rubber boat to Greece and then walked across Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and finally Germany. This part of the journey wasn’t very hard for me because after I’d lost literally everything. I was mentally prepared for anything. I had even accepted the idea that I might die at any stage in this journey. Physically? It wasn’t really that bad. It was more like a camping trip. But the really bad thing was seeing all these people, these families suffer. I could handle it but it was exhausting for the women, the children, the old people. That really shocked me and it was really horrible.
In Serbia and Hungary, the people use the refugees for money. The mafia controls them. I got scammed thrice by the mafia. You have no protection against this. You are just naked and don’t have any kind of defence.
What the real story here? From the point of view of a resident of Syria? What is this war to you?
It more from my point of view. The chaos and the violence is Syria’s transition. I had hoped that this would bring results, the kind that the French revolution brought. This hope is diminishing now due to the growing influence of the jihadist behaviour and their mentality combined with the maniacs and the idiots of the Arab gulf. The animals having money are shedding it on these Jihadist’s because they claim to be doing god’s work. I think the regime will eventually collapse though. This will stop. This doesn’t in any way mean that we have to go through this to become better as a country. This regime is the worst thing that could ever have happened to Syria. Assad is the biggest disaster for this country because there is no one as bad, as criminal as the Assad regime. So, this war began as a real revolution, but now it’s more: Jihadist’s against the regime, rebels against the Jihadist’s, the regime against them and then there is ISIS which just against everybody. The real rebels are frontless and are not getting any support from anybody. Most of them have quit because it’s not possible to win anymore.
The Paris Attacks and other terrorist plots around the world have been blamed on the rise of refugees entering Europe, by many. How does this make you feel?
When it happened I felt empathy. It was really bad that people died. But people are people in France or anywhere else. I think that I’d already consumed all the grief I had in Syria.
About blaming the refugees. Why don’t they blame the security services? If they did their jobs efficiently this would never happen. There are so many people coming and there is a good chance a radical might come using this cover and take advantage of the situation. I don’t think the people who commit the Paris attacks were refugees and the story that they found Syrian passports at the scene is very ironic… comic actually. What kind of terrorist will take his passport along?
In one way or another we are blamed. We are accused, but we are not all like that. Not everybody came from Syria. Not everyone came with bad intentions for their new home.
What would you say to the perpetrators of the war?
I don’t think I would like to say anything. If they were sane and if the war affected them they would never drag it so far. They would never sacrifice so many people. They are crazy maniacs. What kind of words could be delegated to these people? Words are not really efficient for them. Simply put, I would say: “Shame on you. You should be ashamed of what you are doing. People won’t forget this. History will remember you for what you have done.”