[i] Hello!

[r] Hello!

[i] Tell me about yourself and your life in your country?

[r] Yes, I am [name] from Syria and I was born in 1965. I have a family of four sons and one daughter. I was born in Kalamon, Syria. My father moved to Harasta in Ghouta, in the east of Ghouta, because of his work. We moved to Ghouta in 1970 and stayed there until 2018. I worked in eastern Ghouta, I worked in construction. I grew up and married in Ghouta. I had children and I continued to work in construction. We lived a good life. My brothers and sisters and I lived in one house, my brothers and sisters were 12 members, 5 brothers and 7 sisters. We lived a great life together and my parents lived with us. It was a very strong social life that united us, nothing better than that. Er… In 2000 I moved to Damascus for work. I opened my own shop, a supermarket. I started my work in the heart of Damascus. My life in the heart of Damascus was not like my life in the village. People who live in the city are different from the people who live in the village. I worked there from 2000 to 2017. I had my own supermarket. Mercy from Allah, my life was good and stable. My financial situation was very good, me and my family. Everyone in my family had their own apartment and our situations were all good. We had apartments, shops and farmland. Our life was good from 1975 to 2011. In 2011, the Syrian crisis started.

[i] At what level did you study at school before the Syrian crisis?

[r] I studied until the sixth year of primary school, I had just finished primary school, then I left primary school. I worked in construction because I have good physical strength. Mercy from Allah, it went well. I worked about 25 years in construction. I did not go back to school.

[i] Tell me about your parents? What was their job?

[r] My father was a civil servant. He didn’t go to school but he worked as a Koran teacher. My mother never went to school, she was unskilled. My children went to school and went to high school. I was the least educated at home, I only went to primary school, but my siblings all went to secondary school. We’re all married.

[i] What is the age of your children?

[r] The ages of my four boys are 28, 26, 22, and 11 and my daughter is 10 years old.

[i] Are you of Syrian descent?

Yes, I am of Syrian descent.

[i] Although your life was very good and everything was in order, what happened that made you decide to migrate?

[r] The problem that made me decide to migrate is the crisis in 2011. The problems started, there were people who protested, human rights were violated and people were murdered. There was murder in Syria.

[i] Were you in Damascus?

[r] Yes, I was in Damascus.

[i] Were there problems in Damascus or just outside?

[r] It was especially dangerous in the countryside. I was commuting from the village to work in the city during the crisis. This was in the first year. At the beginning of the second year of the crisis, I had problems commuting from my home in the village to work in the city. I had problems going home in the evening. The region was so dark and there were checkpoints.

[i] What could happen when you return to your home from work?

[r] The village where I lived used to be well lit, but now it was very dark. There was no electricity at all. When I came home at night, I was afraid because there was no one on the street. The regime started to arrest people who had protested. Sometimes they arrested people arbitrarily. If they could find anything against them, they would be imprisoned, otherwise they would be released. These things were a problem for me. At the beginning of the second year I decided to move from the village to the city. I did that for my children who were still young because they might be influenced by some ideas or go along with the demonstrators. I wanted to be neutral, impartial.

[i] Was the village where you stayed for or against the regime?

[r] Almost everywhere in the countryside were against the regime. They protested against the government and wanted to dissolve it.

[i] Has there been an incident that made you feel that your life was in danger?

[r] Yes of course! The reason I left the village of Harasta and moved to the city is that Harasta became a rebellion area, and I didn’t feel it was safe for my children and me. I worked in a shop in the city and my children stayed in the village. I didn’t feel that my children were safe there. One day I went home at noon, the first incident happened to me personally. I walked back to my house at night when someone started shooting at me with a machine gun. I didn’t know where the shots came from because it was so dark and I hid behind a wall. Many shots were fired, it was very dark that you couldn’t see your finger, shots were fired. In such a situation you don’t know what to do because of the fear. I hid in a corner for about an hour and then went home in the dark. My children were scared, they heard the shots outside. The next morning I woke up and went to work. The next evening, when I came home, I found my house full of dust and sand, it was a mess. I went looking for my children, fortunately they were unharmed. I asked them, “What happened?” They said that a rocket had hit our house. I said, “I hope everything is going to be all right”. We still didn’t think about leaving our house then. We thought: “This problem has been going on for a year, but it will end soon”. After one or two weeks, when I came back from work, my wife said: “It’s enough, we can’t live here anymore, this place isn’t safe”. One day I went to bring my children to school, there was a projectile at the school. There were children. It happened a lot that while children left school a projectile fell on them, on children … They were killed before our eyes.

[i] Did you see people being killed before your eyes?

[r] Certainly, everyone in the village saw such things. Everyone saw people being killed in front of their eyes, there was nothing we could do. We saw dead people lying in the street and asked, “What happened?”.  They said this man was a spy for the regime. He was a spy, he was watching us in front of the regime. Then someone told the regime about the murder, when the regime started to kill. I saw so many things, random murders.

[i] What revolted the people, even though there was peace and life was good?

[r] The financial situation was very good and we lived a very good life, perhaps the best of all Arab countries. Everything was cheap food and drink.  If you worked hard, you could buy your own house, get married and have children. There was a lot of employment. After the Syrians had seen the revolutions in the other Arab countries, they thought they could change the regime and that is why they rebelled.  Some people did not want to revolt and left the countryside. They moved them to the city of Damascus. I was one of them, I didn’t want to rebel.  If I supported the people in my village against the regime, I would not be able to go to work in the city because the regime would regard me as a rebel. And if I stayed in the village, they might think that I supported the regime. That is why I thought there was only one solution: to move to Damascus with my wife and my children.

[i] Was it easy to find a house in Damascus or was it difficult?

[r] It was possible to find apartments, but prices were constantly changing. My income… My income allows me to find a house, but there were other people who couldn’t because of their low income. Allah sent me a good man who lived in Damascus, He helped me a lot. His name is Radwan Al-dabashi (Abo-khalid). He said: “The situation in your village is not safe. I have a house for you, it is empty. Bring your wife and children here”. He gave me the house free of charge from the beginning of 2012 until the end of 2017. In that time you paid for renting an apartment 200 000 Syrian lira. He gave me the house for 5 years, a large house with lots of space.

[i] Do you know how much it costs in euros?

[r] A rent of 250.000 Syrian lira comes down to 500 Euro. It was a very large house. He also told me: “If your brothers and sisters are in danger, bring them here”. A month after our move to Damascus, the fight in the countryside got worse. There was more and more fighting. There were bombings and rockets. My brothers and sisters called me and said that they couldn’t live there anymore. I told them they could live with me, so they came to Damascus.

[i] How many brothers and sisters do you have?

[r] I have 5 brothers and 7 sisters. We all lived scattered in different places. One in Tal city, another in Sihnayah, another in Hafier our hometown, and I in Damascus. My brothers came to live with me. They all worked in car mechanics, they repaired cars in the middle of Damascus, it was safe there. In this period the army wanted to recruit more soldiers. We heard from time to time about people who joined the reserve army and after one month were killed or hit by a projectile. Two of my sisters were so afraid that they decided to migrate, but I still didn’t think about migration at all. I lived in a house and I worked. My house was even free. My sisters migrated like others to Turkey, and from there to Europe with the help of smugglers.

[i] Was there danger in Damascus as well? Were there ever explosions?

[r] Of course some rockets had exploded in the city. They came from the countryside. Sometimes missiles and rockets fell on us. Living in Damascus was also danger. Not one or two rockets fell in Damascus, but hundreds.

[i] The demonstration was peaceful in the beginning, why did they start attacking with rockets?

Yes, they attacked with projectiles. I wasn’t in the country at the time, I didn’t see it but we knew that the regime attacked the demonstrators with rockets and the rebels started to shoot back. The rockets sometimes fell on military bases or government buildings and sometimes on civilians or open markets. This happened a lot.

[i] When you lived in Damascus, did you fear for your life because of the regime or another group?

[r] No, I had no problems with the regime or the rebels. I was not afraid of anyone because I was a peaceful man. I did what the regime asked me to do. I live with them in their region and worked in my shop. The regime had already investigated me. They knew where I lived and they wouldn’t allow anyone to stay if they didn’t know him. They did a lot of research on me and they knew my background. My background is clean, no crimes or problems. The regime… didn’t do anything to us or harass us. The only thing that annoyed us was the shells that fell in the city. It caused a lot of fear. Not only for me, but for all the people who lived in the city. It was a big problem for everyone who lived in the city.

[i] Did this revolution affect the economy of your country in general and your income in particular?

[r] Of course! It affected. I lost more than 50% of my income. Many people from the city migrated. I saw many abandoned houses. Some migrated to Egypt, others to Sudan, others to the US, others to France. Many people left their homes. The people who migrated from the countryside to the city became more numerous than the people who already lived in the city. Those who had money migrated with their families to avoid getting hurt. We saw many accidents. For example, someone drove a taxi and a projectile killed him and the people in the taxi. The situation was no longer safe. So people who had money escaped, but those who had no money could do nothing and became desperate. Until then, I hadn’t thought about migration at all. I was still working and my children went to school. One day when my son came out of school, his face was twisted by fear.

[i] Was this the moment you decided to migrate?

[r] Yes, when a projectile fell in Damascus, our Syrian friends from Saudi Arabia or Germany called us. Hello! Syrian friends. They asked, “Is everything all right?”. There had been an accident in our region. I asked them what had happened. They knew that a projectile had fallen in our neighbourhood, even though they were in another country !!!! They said that a projectile had struck right next to my son’s school. I said “oh no!”, got dressed and went quickly to my son’s school. When I found my son, his face was twisted by fear. This is the moment I made my decision to escape from Damascus to save my family. But I wanted to leave legally. I mean, I wanted to emigrate legally. What worried me most were my children. I wasn’t worried about myself, although I was 10 times more exposed to danger than my children. I had a fruit and vegetable shop in Damascus. When I wanted to buy goods for the shop, I had to go to a very dangerous area. For example, when we were in an open market, where a lot of people were shopping, a projectile fell. I saw a lot of people on the ground, some injured, someone lost his hand, another lost his leg. As a result, I was often exposed to danger, but I said, “What comes from Allah, I accept”. The only thing that worried me were my children. If my child were to die, I would accept it, but the idea that they could lose a hand or a leg, and be disabled for the rest of their lives, frightened me. So I decided to leave. To migrate from Syria to Turkey and from Turkey to Europe. That cost a lot of money, so I needed a lot of money.

[i] Why did you choose to go to Europe?

[r] Before the crisis I had never thought about migrating to Europe, I had never even heard of that idea before the crisis. Two of my sons said, “Father, let us go to Turkey. We will work there and see how it goes. That is better than staying here. Let us go to Turkey’. They were boys, they could work. They said: “We can check how things are there and prepare everything for you, rent an apartment for you and find you a job. We would check the region for you. If we like the situation, give your shop to someone and come to us so we can feel safe, far from killing and the projectiles”. I told them “that’s a good idea”. I have two sons, each of them needed about 2000… dollars for this trip, for each person, to go to Turkey, find an apartment and stay until they found work they needed money. I said to them “we don’t have much money, $4,000 for both of you is too much for me”. After the danger had increased, I had bought my own tourist van. I told them “no problem, I will sell the van and then you can both go to Turkey”. My children were going to apply for a passport. That was possible, because they had postponed military service to study. It made it Passport and then they said: “We’re ready, we’re leaving”. At that time we heard that there were smuggling operations from Turkey to Europe. Going to Europe had become a dream for us. We had heard a lot about Europe, about civilisation and science. It was just a dream, but no one expected that one day we would migrate to Europe. After all, we were happy in our country. My children asked me: ‘If we went to Turkey… and then to Europe, what do you think?’. I said to them: ‘You should know Turkey better than I do, and if you don’t like it there, then go to Europe’. At that time, Europe accepted refugees. Then we started hearing about refugee camps and how the refugees went to the refugee camps, about how they made the journey from Turkey to Europe by sea, and about refugees who drowned in the sea. Children were drowned, a boat sank and all the people drowned. The journey was very dangerous.

[i] How old were your children and how many of them migrated?

[r] Two were around 22 years old, both were studying, they postponed military service, one of them was a law student and the other an electronic engineer. They were around 22 years old and they postponed military service because they wanted to continue their studies. However, the region where they were studying became an area of conflict and therefore they had not been able to study for years. So I said they could migrate. When they wanted to migrate, they asked me, “Can we bring our youngest brother?”. The age of my youngest child at the time was 9 years old… I told them, “Why do you want to take him?”. They said, “We will take care of him, which is better than keeping him in danger here. The goal for me was that if he went with them to Europe, he could take me there. He could invite me, his mother and his young sister. He could invite us to Europe through family reunion. I said, “No problem.” They went to Turkey and stayed for about 10 or 15 days. I always wondered what happened to them when they were in Turkey. I was worried the whole time.

[i] Did they have the experience of travelling?

[r] No, they had no experience at all, not even a little bit.

[I] Weren’t you afraid of them?

[r] Of course I was afraid. I was very scared. When my children went to Turkey, they were the longest days of my whole life.

[i] How did they migrate?

[r] They went to Turkey by plane, then they stayed in a hotel. They found a smuggler who asked for… 1000 dollars or 1000 euros per person. He took you to a boat, then the boat went to Greece. This trip from Turkey to Greece is the most dangerous part. They went with a boat with many people and the boat was overloaded. This is the most dangerous area. When they crossed this area, which took about one hour. After one hour when they reach the other side on the coast, they overcame 90% of the danger of the trip. The danger of drowning in the sea. My children told me: “We will not stay in Turkey, we will go to Europe”. I asked them, “How is your journey with your youngest brother with you? “. They said, “We are waiting in Turkey for the smugglers to find … that the weather, the wind and everything is good to make sure that the journey will be easy”.

[i] How many days or months did they stay in Turkey?

[r] They stayed there for about 20 days. But after 20 days they decided to migrate. One day they told me: “We will migrate by boat at four o’clock in the morning after we have reached an agreement with the smugglers”. I asked them, “What was the agreement with the smugglers?”. They said they would pay 1000 dollars or euros for each person. They would put the money on someone in Turkey, the amount of money they agreed. Of course they had a mobile phone. And as soon as they reached Europe, they would call that person to give the money to the smugglers. The smugglers then received the money. Some people pay directly to the smugglers and smugglers steal their money and they do not smuggle them over. Sometimes… the smugglers put the refugees in the forest and left them alone in the rain and cold. They mislead and manipulate them. They smuggle the refugees to the coast of Turkey to hide from the Turkish Jandarma. They place the refugees in small trucks, with as many as 20 to 30 people per truck. It can be very hot or very cold in the truck, or people can suffocate, the journey was very hard. So my children migrated at 4 in the morning. They went to a boat and it brought them to the other side. They called me and said: “By Allah’s will, we leave today at 4 am. It will be all right, if Allah will”. Then the communication between us stopped. I could not reach them at all. We lost all contact from 4 a.m. until 8 p.m. the next day. This was the longest day of my life. The longest day I have ever seen. No communication. I was so worried about the child. I wasn’t worried about the older boys because they could swim, but the youngest couldn’t swim. The next day…

[i] When was this? What day? What year?

[r] Around 2012, in the second year of the crisis. At the end of 2012, when the battle had become very fierce. At the height of the crisis. The next day my children called and said: “We have reached Greece”. I said “Grace to Allah that they reached Greece!”. For that means that there is no more danger for them.

[i] Had they had problems during the journey?

[r] The sea was very calm, there had been no problems. During the journey of 40 minutes nothing had happened, thanks to Allah. The smugglers brought them up to 300 meters or 400 meters from the Greek coast, after which they made them jump into the sea. The refugees swam until they reached the coast where the authorities welcomed them. There they saw many refugees. The next day they were deported from Greece to Cyprus. There in Cyprus they registered and showed their identification documents. Syrians in particular were strictly controlled.  They sent the Syrians to registrations and so on… I don’t know exactly how my children’s entire journey went. I just know it up to here. Then they said to me: “We’re going to another country, to Macedonia and then to Germany” or something like that. Then their journey continued until they reached Belgium. It took them 20 days to reach Belgium. From Greece to Belgium, it took 20 days. During the 20 days, they slept and ate with many people in the same place. They have suffered a lot under cold and rain. One day my children sent me a picture of my youngest son, he slept in a big bag in a forest and the bag was closed to protect him from the cold weather. They put it in the bag and closed it. He looked like a dead person. They took off their clothes and covered him with them. They warmed themselves by making a fire and so on… It was a very difficult journey. This journey will remain in their memories for the rest of their lives. Then… they left Macedonia, took trains and buses and walked. They were well treated, the refugees, by the Europeans. They gave them food, drinks… and many services, especially the Syrian refugees. My youngest son told me: “They came to us and gave us food and chocolate and they sympathized with us, and they sympathized with us. When we told them our story, they were crying when they heard why we were migrating and how we got here with a child”. At the end they reached Belgium. Their fingerprints were taken and then they were taken to a refugee camp. There were about 250 to 300 refugees in this centre. They ate together with others from the same plate. They put a family in a room or 2 to 3 people in a room.

[i] What city were they in when they arrived in Belgium?

[r] I don’t know which city, but my children do. Do you want me to ask my children?

[i] That is not necessary.

[r] They stayed in a city whose name I don’t know. They stayed in the refugee camp for one year… until the time allowed in the centre had ended. We lived together in Damascus for about 4 years. From 2012, when the crisis started, until the beginning of 2016. We were all together at first, in 2016 my children migrated. They stayed in the refugee camp for one year, they called me often and I was glad that my children were safe. I was mentally relaxed because my children are safe. After one year in the refugee camp and their time was up, they got their legal residence permit after their fingerprints were taken. They gave them time to find an apartment. They found this house and moved here. After that they started to learn the language and they lived on the money they received from the government. They only had a little money for themselves. After paying the rent… and facilities like electricity, water and internet, there was not much money left. They managed to get some help from people on the street. When my children called me, I asked them, “How is your youngest brother?” They said: “Very well, he is happy and goes to school”. When I spoke to him, I heard the sadness in his voice. My children couldn’t see that, but I’m his father. I know him well. I know what is in his heart. The boy was 10 years old, he needed his father, and his mother. He wants to stay next to his father, he wants to sleep close to his father. He wants the comfort of his father. His brother can’t give him comfort like his father. I felt his sadness. I asked my children “Can you take me to Belgium?”. My situation in Syria was no longer like before. The situation became less stable and unsafe. They told me: “We will apply for family reunification for you because our youngest brother is only 10 years old”. The boy wanted to be with his father and mother. They inquired about the family reunification and heard that they could indeed bring in their parents if there was a child here. If my son had been 20 years or older, he would not have been able to apply for family reunification. My fourth son was 20 years old, he stayed in Syria.

[i] Why didn’t he migrate with his brothers?

[r] He didn’t migrate with them because he accepted the situation and he studied law. He was still in his first year at university. He decided to continue his studies. He said, “If I migrate to Europe, I will lose the first year of my university studies. Secondly, if I want to study law there at the university, it will take a lot of time to learn the language, send my certificates and apply to study at universities in Europe. With this time, I will be able to graduate here’. We were hoping that the crisis would be over when he graduated. That’s why this son decided not to migrate, he preferred to stay in Syria. My children applied for family reunion and I received acceptance. Then I was invited to the embassy in Lebanon to give my documents. I often travelled from Syria to Lebanon and from Lebanon to Syria. They asked for several documents.

[i] Is there no Belgian embassy in Syria?

[r] No, the Belgian embassy was in Lebanon. The application process took more than three months. Travelling between Lebanon and Syria cost me a lot of money. I paid a lot of money to the bus, from Syria to Lebanon and vice versa. I also paid a lot for the hotel there. My financial situation was good, but when I finally got the family reunification, I was bankrupt. I said it wasn’t important that I lost all my money now that I could migrate because I just wanted to feel safe, safe from missiles, death… the weapons. It had been enough… It became a dream for me to just be able to sleep without hearing explosions from missiles… or sounds from jets or rockets… above us. It became a dream! After receiving acceptance from the embassy, I said: “My dream has come true”. I would finally see my children again. My life was not as it should be, because three of my children were in Europe and two with me in Syria. I had to decide if I wanted to stay with my children here or my children in Europe. I decided to go to Europe, so our whole family was reunited, except for one person. My son, who decided to continue his studies in Syria, stayed there. After receiving the VISA, I booked a flight from Syria to Turkey and from Turkey to Belgium. I migrated with my wife and my daughter. I told my children when our flight would leave Lebanon and when it would reach Turkey, and then when it would reach Belgium from Turkey. We didn’t know the language or what to do at the airports. My sons said: “We will be waiting for you at the airport in Belgium”, which was at Charleroi airport. Eventually we arrived at the airport and took our suitcases with us, after which we saw our children there.

[i] How did it feel when you saw your children?

[r] There are two moments I will never forget in my whole life. Two moments I have experienced and will never forget. They will remain in my memory until I die. The first moment was when I went on a pilgrimage and saw Al-Kabah. I will never forget the first sight of Al-Kabah. The second moment was when I arrived at the airport and I was looking for my children “Where are my children? Where are my children?”. My children saw me before I saw them. You know there is a lot of noise at the airport! In the midst of all these noises, I heard my youngest son call out “Daddy”. When I heard my youngest son scream “Daddy”, I knew it was him and I looked at him. I looked and when I saw him, that is an image that I will never forget my whole life. He ran to me and I hugged him. I didn’t kiss him, but I smelled him. Grace to Allah, I reached my goal to be with my child. We completed all the procedures at the airport and came to this house. When I came home, it felt like I was suffocating. I thought I would be happy here but it felt like I was suffocating.

[i] Why?

[r] I moved from one country to another, and the difference was huge. This new country is completely different. In the first week… I thought I made a big mistake in coming here, and it would never be okay again. In Syria I had a supermarket and many social contacts with people. A lot of people came to my shop every day and I talked and shared thoughts with them. When I went back home, in the evening after I closed my shop, I went to see a friend who had an office, or another friend who had a restaurant and they came to my home, or my sisters or my wife’s family visited me at home. I had a busy social life and I love it. When I came here, I lost all that… I lost everyone I loved in Syria.

[i] How was your relationship with your neighbours? Were you in contact with them?

[r] What neighbours?

[i] The neighbours here.

[r] No one is talking to each other here. No one knows each other. No one comes knocking at the door. No one visits each other. Twenty days ago it was Sugar Feast, the feast of Ramadan in 2018.  This was the first time in my whole life that no one said to me: “Best wishes for the whole year!”. Nobody said to me: “Best wishes for the whole year”. No one came to me. It wasn’t like that in Syria.

[i] What was your first impression when you reached the airport and saw the city?

[r] My first impression was that I was happy because the sound of the explosions had stopped. I came to a place where I don’t hear rockets, missiles or jets. When I entered the city I felt safe and relaxed. I felt stable and the problems of the war stopped, the problems were over.

[i] What cultural differences have you seen here compared to your culture in Syria?

[r] The culture of society here is 180 degrees… different from that of our culture. In our country the people are social. They visit each other and do activities together outside the house, but here people work alone. They go to work in the morning and come back in the evening. Then they eat, go to bed early and get up the next day to get back to work. Syrians don’t do that. We go out after work, visit each other, meet each other… They don’t do that here.

[i] What about food?

[r] We muslims don’t eat some kinds of food, we avoid it. For example, we do not eat pork because Allah forbids it in our religion. We look for food that suits us like the food of our Turkish brothers here. They slaughter animals… chicken, sheep, cows… We buy their halal food. The food is no problem. They love their food and we love our food. We are used to feed our closest neighbors that we cook during Ramadan or other days. They did not know our dishes at all. They didn’t know our dishes at all. That’s why we started to cook and give it to our neighbors. When they tasted it, they liked it. They were happy with that tasty new food. It is not customary for someone here to come to his neighbour with food, but they liked it. They saw that we are peaceful and harmless people. They found us social people who can easily interact with others and love their neighbors. I have some contacts here with my neighbors in this building, although I can’t speak their language. They respect me, because when I see that someone needs help, I help him. When I see an elder who needs someone to take his hand and go to a place together, or an older woman who needs someone to open the door for her. They see that we are good for other people. I think the Belgians in Europe are nice… very nice people, and have good manners. I say to Syrian friends that when Belgians say “Bonjour” to you, they sing it for you. They say “Bonjouur” with a smile on their face. They are civilized people, with whom you can live together. In fact, we have seen people with values here that we have not seen in our Arab countries.

[i] In what year did you come to Belgium?

[r] What?

[i] In what year and month did you come to Belgium?

[r] October 5, 2017. Today is July 6, 2018 so I am here about 8 months.

[i] Was Liège the first city where you lived when you came to Belgium?

[r] Yes, Liege. I still live in Liège because my children live here, so I decided to live with them.

[i] What do you think of the French language?

[r] Although I have been here for 8 months, I still have problems with the language. I have enrolled in 2 schools, but the course hasn’t started yet. I am not taking a course now. I have to wait until 1 September 2018 when the course starts. I can’t learn the language from the street or from my son, it’s very difficult for me.

[i] Why shouldn’t you start the language course now? Is it because there was no room for you?

[r] The new language course for me starts on September 1st. My children all go to school, and my daughter, who came with me, went to school immediately. I enrolled her in the third grade. The school year had been going on for 4 months, but she was doing well. She started practicing the language at home with her brother. I’m 55 years old and I can’t do it, sometimes I learn some words in the evening, but the next day I forget them. I forgot all about them.

[i] Haven’t you tried practicing with people?

[r] I try, but I can’t. For example, I heard a word on the street from people, and when I went home, I asked my son what it meant, and I learned it. My biggest problem now is that I can’t speak the language yet. That is my biggest problem. My wife and I are very motivated to go to school because we want to speak the language. When we want to buy something in… shopping malls or supermarkets, we use signal language to communicate. I need to learn the language in order to integrate into society and to understand what people are asking me and what I have to say to them. I can’t talk now. Many people want to talk to us to hear our story.

[i] What work experiences have you had in your country and would you like to work here with that experience?

[r] Of course! Now they give us monthly money for rent… and other expenses, but we do nothing. We don’t like that. We want to work. The Syrian people love work, they don’t want to be dependent on others and just eat and sleep, eat and sleep. I don’t want that, I want to integrate into society. Belgium took care of me… it took care of me… and was generous to me. They gave me a house and money. I want to give Belgium something of my work experience. I have experience with construction, I have experience with tiling and I have experience with ceramics. I had a supermarket, so I can buy and sell. I can arrange and classify goods. I want to use all this energy I have, but I can’t work because I don’t know the language. They sent me to an office to find a job. I can drive heavy trucks, big trucks. I went there and took my son to translate for me. They said: “We can give you a job, but first you have to learn the language. After you have learned the language, we will give you a job in what you like to do”. The other big problem I have now is emptiness. Emptiness destroys me. Emptiness, emptiness, emptiness… I usually stay at home because I can’t talk to people on the street. I don’t understand what people say or how I can talk to them. I stay at home with a lot of emptiness, the emptiness destroys me. The emptiness weakens me, I want to work. My life becomes nothing because of this emptiness. Life is meaningless with the emptiness. Life makes sense if you can do your work in the morning and then come home in the afternoon or evening. You are tired and you want to relax, but now I am relaxed… because I don’t work. I’m not tired, so I can’t sleep easily. My body doesn’t need sleep because it’s not tired. Every day I stay awake until 3 a.m. sometimes 4 or 5 or 6, because I can’t sleep, I’m not tired. That is our problem now, emptiness. We have a lot of emptiness.

[i] Aren’t there any social activities organized by the city to help refugees integrate?

[r] The educational courses, that’s the integration here, it’s called ‘Laissez-nous’.

[i] Is there no other program than the language course?

[r] Since we are beginners, the first step is to learn the language. They accompany us, they told us: “We have an integration course”. That is integration, they send us to school to learn the language.

[i] What is the reason the language course took so long to begin?

[r] Normally we could go to school as soon as we got here, but they classified us as beginners, level zero. For example, they asked us, “What letters do you know? What grades? What do you know about this or that…”. We don’t know anything, so they set us to zero, I mean beginner’s level. They want to wait… until September 1st when there are some refugees for the level zero and then the course starts. The refugees who know 2%, 5% or 10%, start the course immediately. They can talk, know some numbers, can write, understand the written words or do some arithmetic. They immediately send the refugees to school. My children know English well because they learned it in Syria, but they didn’t know French. I have a son with a bachelor’s degree, he went to the integration course and did well. He succeeded in learning the language, remembering it and talking to people, but I couldn’t do it.

[i] Do you ever come across unpleasant situations?

[r] Two days ago, I went to a store to buy special shoes because I have diabetes. I can’t buy a shoe with a hard material, it doesn’t suit me, I have diabetes, I wanted soft shoes. I started to explain to the saleswoman what I needed, but she didn’t understand me. She was right with that, she didn’t have enough time to listen to me. She said, “Bring an interpreter so I can give you what you want”. In such situations, I feel that something is missing, the language. It’s very important. They are right when they ask us to first learn the language to integrate into their society.

[i] What is your plan for the future? What is the goal you want to achieve in the future?

[r] My plan is to have a good life in the future. I live with my wife and with two young children. The other sons have left the house. They study, have their own home, and they work. My plan is to live a better life than now. I want to work and make money with my efforts. I want to earn a salary with my efforts, I want to work. I want to spend money on my family, which makes me happy.

[i] Now that you have come to Belgium and your life has become stable, do you ever intend to return to Syria or to stay here in Belgium?

[r] I wish I could go back to Syria, but if I decided to go back to Syria, I would have two problems. The first problem is that my children do not accept the idea of going back to Syria. Personally, I am more attached to Syria than my children. The things I am attached to are the things I have done and built in Syria in 55 years. The things I left there attract me to go back. What prevents me from going back to Syria are my children, the two youngest. When I go there, they lose their studies. They lose what they studied because they studied French here. They haven’t finished their studies in French yet. My son in Syria didn’t finish his university studies in Arabic yet, so he would lose 5 years of his life. This is the first reason why I can’t go back. The second reason is that I have nothing left in Syria. Where would I go? Where would I live? Will I go back to the ruins of my house? My house has been destroyed… my shop has been destroyed… and my farm I built has been destroyed. I had a farm that I built myself because I work in construction. I built it stone by stone. I built everything with my own hands. The things that connect me with my country here are the memories.

[i] What do you hope for your country in the future?

[r] My dream is to see my country become stable and safe, but in this situation it is impossible. How can people return to ruins and live there? People want to return home after all this suffering. But shall I go back to rebuild what was destroyed? I cannot rebuild. I don’t want to go back to see the ruins of what I built. I don’t want to see all my memories become dust. Everything is burnt and the roof of my house has collapsed. This is the situation I escaped, I don’t want to see all this. All my memories are there, every street… every place… every corner of my house… every room… every tree has a memory. They are in my heart because I made them with my hands. My happy memories are all dead now……………………………. Zero… If I go to my country now, I won’t find anything. I decided to stay here because I am at least psychologically satisfied. My body stays here but my heart is in Damascus.

[i] What do you think about the government’s care for refugees?

[r] The government here?

[i] Yes.

[r] Of what care?

[i] Health, education and in all respects.

[r] I will give my opinion about what Belgium has done with the Syrian refugees, but I don’t know anything about the opinion of the Iraqis or the Palestinians because I haven’t spoken with them, so I don’t know what their opinion is. No Arab country gave us what Belgium gave us. We ask each other when we get the money at the end of the month and we pay the rent and other expenses. How can we thank the government? The government deserves more than a thank you. We want to give the government more than just gratitude is that we want to give something for the country, we want to work for them, we want to build for them. What Belgium gave me, my own country did not give me. There is a lot of health care. Too much health care for us and for the others. Health insurance… many care centres… medicines… They gave us so much.

[i] How was their care for your children?

[r] More than health care, what do I want? They sent my children to school and gave them health care. They don’t allow anyone to humiliate my children. If my children want to study, they give them education and if they want to exercise also the opportunity to exercise, they take care of my children. They want to keep my children active. They know very well that this refugee child will help the country in the future. This child learns and he will give more than I can give. This child is integrated and he is learning, tomorrow he will be productive. The government takes a lot of care of us.

[i] Can your children speak French? Or they still have problems learning the language?

[r] My children now all speak French fluently, especially the youngest child, this child. He speaks the best French. His brothers, who are 18 years older than him, ask him when they don’t understand something. They ask him, “What does this word mean?”. The basic language course for my older children was completed. They are now preparing for advanced language courses at the university. They easily speak the street language, but now they learn to speak at a professional level in order to enroll in their educational discipline or discipline. They did not experience any problems in the basic courses.

[i] What are you missing in your country?

[r] I miss everything in my country. I miss the sun… it warms me. The light of the moon there, although the moon here is the same. How I got back from work in my country and slept on my back and looked at the moon in the sky. This is a memory in my heart. The threshold of my house… that I haven’t seen in 7 years, has been destroyed. I wish I could put my cheek on the threshold of my ruined house. I want to put my cheek on the threshold of my house so that my house tells me its concerns. There is a cry in the heart of my house that wants to share it with me. And there is a cry in my heart that I want to share with my home. Why did I leave it 7 years ago? For my children. It was not my choice, it was not because I wanted to leave. I was forced to leave. It was because I was afraid that something bad might happen to my children. I miss my house trees… tree… tree… tree. I miss the ornamental flowers that I have planted. Now, as I sit here, I remember the colour of every flower I have planted on my farm. The flowers were gone… The trees were all gone. The trees were all burnt. They were burned to warm themselves. The grape trees… The grapes were in different colours. All these things mean a lot to me. They are all buried… and they may be buried forever and I will never see them again. I am now 55 years old, when will the situation in my country be stable enough to return there? After 10 years? When I turn 65? What can I give my country at that age? There is no hope left that I can give… build… develop… plants… and produce… I will no longer have strength when I am 65 years old. That’s when I’m 65 years old. Everything is buried… We left Syria and we buried every beautiful thing in her heart. All the beautiful memories in her heart. One day I walked into a village in Belgium and smelled the smoke that came from burning wood. The smell of the burning wood is special. I remembered… how I was burning the wood in my country. I felt so attached to that smell, because I smelled the smoke from the wood, that in the winter I burned in my stove to make tea on it, I smelled it. I smelled the memories of my country, but unfortunately… all the great memories were all buried.

[i] What about your workplace in your country?

[r] I worked in a shop in Damascus for 20 years, but I gave it back to the owners. This store also has its memories for me. When I once didn’t open the shop for a day because I was sick, or I have an urgent situation… or when I came to the shop late and opened it at 11:00 instead of 8:00, I got about 100 calls from people who asked me: “Hello! What’s wrong with Abu Mohammed? Why didn’t you open the shop today? Are you all right? “. I remember this… but here you die and nobody will know because nobody knows you.

[i] Do you have nightmares when you sleep about the hard things that have happened to you in your country or when you were worried about your children or the dangerous situations that have happened to you there?

[r] When I dream something about my country, I wake up the next day confused. For when I saw something good in my dreams that disappeared when I woke up, I woke up confused and very sad because I saw something in my country that I did not see here. This nightmare will not leave me. It won’t leave me. I dream that I sleep at home in my country, but when I wake up everything is gone. What is my shop that I loved?. Life here is good and very acceptable, but we… thought our country was poor. But believe me, our country is richer than here. It is richer… It is sufficient that we have four seasons in our country: autumn, winter, spring and summer. Each season has its own memories. Apricot days, berry days, winter days, autumn days when leaves fall and when trees change their colours. Everything is my country has a beautiful memory in my heart. But unfortunately… my country was destroyed. Those who really lose the land are citizens. The citizens have been oppressed…

[i] Thank you very much for the interview. I wish you good luck and I hope that the situation in your country will stabilize. I hope that one day you will have the opportunity to visit your country and see the things you love.

[r] Thank you very much and I hope that our voice will reach the whole world. The Syrians are peace activists and we are not terrorists. The Syrians have never been terrorists. We have many people with different beliefs, but we all live together in peace. We have never distinguished one religion from another. I would like you to make our voice heard, that we are peace activists and that we love peace.

[i] Do you have a question from the government to help you with anything?

[r] Which government?

[i] The Belgian government.

[r] I ask the government to create more employment opportunities for us so that we can work to improve our situation. For example, the money I get is not enough for me to buy a car, so we can go out with my family to entertain ourselves and see the country. The money I get is not enough to buy a car. I wish I could make money with my own hands. I wish I could make money with my own hands. If the government pays me money for my efforts, it means that I have given something to the country. I want to give the country something. I want to thank the country, I want to work for it. I want to thank the government.

[i] Thank you very much and I wish you good luck.

[r] Allah will reward you with goodness and honor you.