[i] Hello!

[r] Hello!

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

[r] My name is[name] , I am 20 years old. I am from Syria, I lived in Idlib. When I left Syria, I was 14 years old. We lived in a small town.

[i] Idlib?

[r] Yes, the name of the region is Idlib. We lived in a small tourist town in Idlib. My father was a carpenter and he worked in Syria and Lebanon. I used to live with my grandmother and not with my family. Later I lived with my family. I rarely saw my father because he was mostly in Lebanon. He travelled a lot between Syria and Lebanon. I was a student and got excellent marks at school. I have three brothers, I am the only girl. My mother did not work.

[i] Three brothers?

[r] Yes. Three brothers, three boys.

[i] How old are they?

[r] Two of them are twins, they are 18 years old. The third is 16 years old.

[i] Do you all study?

[r] Yes, we all study. No one does not go to school.

[i] How was your financial situation in your homeland?

[r] It was good because we were in a tourist area and there were no economic problems. Most of the people who lived there had a luxury life because everyone had farms, swimming pools, and restaurants. So our situation was good. My father worked in Syria and Lebanon and there everything was fine. We did not suffer like other regions.

[i] What level did you do at school before you left Syria?

[r] My level at the school?

[i] Yes.

[r] I was at level 8 (level 2 in high school).

[i] When you left Syria, did you leave alone or with your family?

[r] First I migrated alone with my uncle, then my family followed. We migrated in 2011, at the beginning of the civil war. The war was going on for a few months when my father decided to migrate so as not to live in a war zone.

[i] Were you happy in your country?

[r] Of course, we were happy. Everything was good and always peaceful. People lived a comfortable life. There were no problems, especially not in the region where I was staying. It was a beautiful area, with friendly people, swimming pools and farms. It was very beautiful.

[i] Were there no political problems, religious problems or other problems?

[r] There were some problems, but not big ones. For example, we had no freedom of opinion. People concentrated only on their lives, eating, drinking, studying and going out with their friends. It was not easy to improve yourself, make your big dreams come true, or talk about personal beliefs. My grandfather had many books and he wanted to build a large library in his house, but the government wouldn’t let him.

[i] When you decided to migrate from Syria to Turkey, you migrated with your uncle, but your father, mother and brothers stayed in Syria, right?

[r] Yes, my father wasn’t in Syria, but my mother and brothers were in Syria.

[i] Was your father in Turkey or Lebanon?

[r] My father was travelling between Turkey and Lebanon. First he was in Lebanon and then he went to Turkey.

[i] Did he work in Lebanon?

[r] Yes, he worked in Lebanon.

[i] And in Turkey?

[r] No, in the beginning he did not work in Turkey, but later he also worked there.

[i] What made you decide to migrate to Turkey with your uncle?

[r] To flee from the war. When the problems started my father decided to migrate to escape from the war.

[i] How did you migrate from Idlib to Turkey?

[r] Idlib is located next to the Turkish border, it took only 15 minutes to reach Turkey. Everything went smoothly, we just went to the border. It was easy. We left at the beginning of the crisis, so there weren’t many people there yet. There were no checks or checkpoints along the way, we traveled easily.

[i] By bus or by car?

[r] By car, then we walked another five minutes until we reached Turkey.

[i] So the road was easy and there were no problems?

[r] Yes, the journey was easy.

[i] When you arrived in Turkey, did you meet your father? Or did you stay alone with your uncle?

[r] Some of our relatives had been living in Turkey for a long time, like two of my aunts. Part of our family lived in Syria another part in Turkey, so we went to our family who lived in Turkey and stayed with them.

[i] Wasn’t there a problem with living, looking for a home or a job?

[r] No, finding a house was easy. After a few months we went to our own house after my mother, brothers and father came from Syria.

[i] Was this in 2011?

[r] Around 2011 and 2012.

[i] How could life in Turkey be compared to Idlib?

[r] It was completely different, with different languages and different people, but the culture was no different. The culture is almost the same between Turkey and Syria, especially in the region next to the border, the people there have many similarities. The language was difficult, it was completely different. I knew a bit of Turkish, but not much. The language was new, but the people were very nice. The people who lived in the villages were very nice.

[i] Did you go to school in Turkey?

[r] After six months I went to school. There was a small Syrian school that had just been established. It was a very simple school, it was in an ordinary house, not an official school. It was founded for the Syrian refugees, to get them back to school instead of doing nothing. In six months we were with about 30 Syrian families. The intention of the project was to help Syrian refugees to stay in education instead of staying at home. They rented a house and turned it into a school. The rooms of the house became the classrooms. Some people came voluntarily to teach at the school. The director brought the Syrian curriculum from Syria, and then we started studying.

[i] Was this school recognized by the Turkish Ministry of Education?

[r] Not in the first year, but we continued to study so as not to forget what we learned earlier. And after a year the school was recognized.

[i] what level did you do?

[r] I studied at this school for three years. After that, the situation changed enormously, there were many schools and many people, so I went to another special school. This was better and fully recognized. I learned three languages there: Arabic, Turkish and English. I finished high school. Then I did the national intelligence test.

[i] Is it the entrance test to the university?

[r] Yes, it has a special name in Turkey, but I don’t remember what it is. I took this test, then I took the Bachelor’s test, then I got my high school diploma.

[i] Did you take a bachelor’s programme there at the university?

[r] No, I did the test to get my diploma recognized because without it I wouldn’t be able to go to university. You need that Bachelor test for all universities. After I took the test, we couldn’t migrate to Europe, so I went to a language school. I learned English and Turkish. My brothers were studying too, and then they started working. Life became difficult because everything became more expensive. The rent of apartments became more expensive and there were not enough jobs. You could find a job, but the salary was not enough, we worked hard, but were not well paid. My mom and dad had a shop and it helped refugees and newcomers. They make all kinds of handmade productions. There were many young Syrian widows, their husbands were killed in the war. It was very sad, many girls who worked for us, had lost one of their family in the war. Some of those girls had no one to help them or give them money. There were many orphans. My parents started this project to help them. The girls worked together with my father and mother to promote made productions, the Turkish citizens bought their products. It was a good project. My parents also founded a kindergarten.

[i] Super good ! Was your uncle the only one who supported your family financially?

[r] No, my uncle didn’t live with us anymore, my father helped us.

[i] Your uncle lived with you in the beginning and helped you, right?

[r] Yes, my uncle was with us in the beginning, but then he left and stayed with his family.

[i] Your father was a carpenter in Syria, did he do the same job in Turkey?

[r] No, he decided to work in the company he founded with my mother. It was a small business, but it was used to help refugees. The girls who worked there made things and these things were presented in exhibitions.

[i] Was the income from this project enough to live off?

[r] We didn’t earn much, but it was more about helping the refugees than about the income. The refugees did different jobs like sewing and wool production and so on. They did other work of which I don’t know the name. The income was not very good but it was enough.

[i] Where did your three brothers study and work?

[r] They completed the second level in high school and two of them worked, but the third did not find a job. The two brothers who found a job worked in mechanics, not with cars, but with machines, mechanics related to machines.

[i] So they didn’t go to college?

[r] No.

[i] The three brothers?

[r] Yes, the three brothers.

[i] How many years did you stay in Turkey?

[r] 6 years.

[i] From 2012 to 2017?

Yes from 2012 to 2017.

[i] Why did you decide to migrate to Europe after 6 years in Turkey?

[r] The project my father and mother had set up was not enough to improve our lives, go to university and study like other students. Life in Turkey was very expensive. Life in Turkey is cheaper than life in Europe, but our expenses in Turkey were higher than our income. My brothers wanted to study. It was not their plan to work all the time. They barely earned enough to live on, for this reason my father decided to migrate, and I also wanted to go to university, but you need a lot of money for that. Tuition is also expensive. That’s why my father decided to migrate to Belgium in 2016.

[i] Did your father migrate alone?

[r] Yes. He migrated alone.

[i] Did your father choose to migrate to Belgium, or just to a country in Europe?

[r] No, he chose Belgium.

[i] Why did he choose Belgium?

[r] He chose Belgium for me… because I was 19 years old and because only Belgium allows the sponsor to invite his children who are over 18 years old.

[i] What about other European countries?

[r] No, there is no family reunification anywhere else for children over the age of 18. My father had friends in Sweden and Germany, they could not bring their children to Turkey. That’s why my father decided to emigrate to Belgium, to have me with him and to help me go to university and he wouldn’t leave me alone in Turkey. For this reason he chose Belgium because he could make a VISA for me from there.

[i] When your father decided to migrate, what did he do to reach Belgium?

[r] He migrated by boat over the sea from Turkey to Greece. The boat sank the first time, but some people saved it, it was terrible. We couldn’t call him for two days, there was no network or other technical problem… It was a difficult journey.

[i] Did he migrate with the help of smugglers?

[r] I don’t know much about it, but there was a town on the border between Turkey and Greece. He stayed in that city for a month until he knew what to do. Then he contacted someone who told him what to do, then he migrated.

[i] How did you feel when your father told you that their boat had sunk into the sea?

[r] We were very scared because we heard that many people died in the sea, children, women, … Many people had already died when he migrated, so we were very scared and my mother asked him to come back. She said we didn’t want to migrate anymore because the trip was so dangerous. Most of the boats sank into the sea and most of the migrants died there, but my father said he would try again.

[i] Your father was in danger when his boat sank and he tried again, right? Was there no other safe way to migrate to Europe?

[r] I don’t think there was any other way because they didn’t give VISA to Syrians. I don’t know, but I think this was the only way to migrate and the quickest way, because if there was another way to migrate, the procedures would take a long time.

[i] In what attempt did your father manage to come to Europe, the second or the third?

[r] In the second attempt.

[i] He managed to reach which country in Europe?

[r] Maybe it was Italy! I don’t know well. I can’t remember the country. I remember him saying Greece, then some countries next to Greece, then Italy, then Germany and from Germany to Belgium.

[i] Your father’s migration story was difficult.

[r] Yes, it was very difficult.

[i] Did he tell you stories about what happened to him during his journey?

[r] Yes, he told us that when the boat sank into the sea, he saw a father drowning with his children. He told us very sad stories. He saw many migrants sinking into the sea. My father could swim because there were many pools in our city, so he tried to help them, but because there were so many, he could only help a few people. The smuggler who was with them did nothing, he left them behind. The smuggler saw that many people were sinking, but nobody knew what to do. He told us very sad stories. When they reached Europe, there was no food and their clothes were wet and bad. The food they had was barely enough to survive. Most migrants did not know what to do after reaching Europe. They did not know what to do next. Many of them followed my father because he had asked what to do before he left.

[i] How old was your father when he migrated?

[r] 39 years old.

[i] Did your father tell you how he felt when he arrived in Belgium?

[r] He was very happy because he was recognised as a refugee in just one or two months. He wasn’t in a refugee camp or anything, he was in a good apartment. He did not struggle to survive in Belgium like others who did when they arrived in Turkey and lived in a tent. When my father arrived in Belgium, he stayed in an apartment and was happy.

[i] In which city?

[r] Here in Antwerp, I think.

[i] He came to Antwerp?

[r] Yes, he had a friend there and he went to him.

[i] Did he stay with him?

[r] No, he met him and then he applied for a social housing in Brussels. They gave him a social home and there he lived, not in a camp. He was glad that he was not in a refugee camp.

[i] When your father started the family reunification procedure, how long did it take?

[r] About a year.

[i] In what year and month did he arrive in Belgium?

[r] I think in September 2016.

[i] In September 2016?

[r] I’m not sure, maybe earlier. I don’t remember.

[i] So at the end of 2016

[r] I think so at the end of 2015.

[i] At the end of 2015?

[r] Yes, he was in Belgium all year 2016.

[i] After he applied for family reunification, when did you arrive in Belgium?

[r] 2017.

[i] In what month?

[r] March.

[i] You were in Belgium in March, right?

[r] Yes.

In Antwerp?

[r] Yes.

[i] Did you travel by plane from Turkey to Belgium?

[r] Yes, by plane.

[i] So there were no problems or difficulties during the trip, right?

[r] No problems.

[i] Did you migrate with your mother and your brothers or alone?

[r] We were all together.

[i] When you arrived, did you arrive at the airport of Brussels or Antwerp?

[r] Charleroi!

[i] Charleroi airport?

[r] Yes.

[i] How did you feel when your plane landed at the airport?

[r] I was so happy because I hadn’t seen my father for two years. I was so happy and I was the first to see my father, for my family. I was so happy to see him, he looked good, I was happy. I hadn’t seen him for a long time, because when we were in Turkey, he was usually at work. Even my brothers grew up and didn’t see him for a long time.

[i] Had you been to Europe before or is this the first time?

[r] No, this is the first time.

[i] What did you think of Europe when you arrived?

[r] Very quiet. It is not crowded like Turkey. Here is more silence, but the people are not very social. Most people live alone, they don’t get along with each other. Most people have a very individual life, so we felt very lonely. When we were in Turkey, we were also in a quiet region, but that was nothing compared to here. Here it is even more quiet.

[i] What was the first thing you did after you arrived in Antwerp?

[r] First we lived with our father in a small apartment, so we had to look for a larger apartment. We were looking for an apartment for a long time. They didn’t even give us the identity card until we found a bigger apartment.

[i] How long did it take you to find an apartment?

[r] A month and a half.

[i] Have you encountered any difficulties in finding an apartment?

[r] Yes a lot… There were a lot of problems and we suffered so much because the apartment was very small when we arrived. Our father couldn’t rent a bigger apartment until we arrived because he was alone. If he rented a large apartment that cost 800 euros, there wouldn’t be enough money left. He said: “When you come to Belgium, I will rent a bigger apartment”. When we arrived, the apartment was very small, only one bedroom. It was very difficult for us because we had never lived in such a small apartment before. Our house in Syria was very big and it was in Arabic style, and our house in Turkey had four rooms, it was big too. So when we came here, our house was small and we found no other apartment because people here might not want Arab tenants. They also want people with a permanent job contact, or with whom they had contact for at least three years. Most of them said no to us. So most of them refused us, they said no … no… And when we found an apartment, it wasn’t because of us. A friend of our father’s worked in a rental office, he was looking for an apartment for us and we had to pay him a commission. I don’t know what, if this name is correct, is commission.

[i] Do you know how much you had paid?

[r] Yes, about 400 euros. We also had to pay a deposit to the owner. It was difficult. It was hard when we first lived in such a small apartment. It was really difficult. I think the hardest thing for us was that when we came here, we were staying in a small apartment, and suddenly, after living in a big apartment, we were living in this small apartment, and we couldn’t leave this small apartment because nobody wanted to rent us. Nobody wanted to give us an apartment. We told them there were only six of us, but no one wanted to give us an apartment.

[i] After you found the apartment, what was your next step in life in Belgium?

[r] We signed up to get our identity cards. We applied for them, and then we receive them. Then I went to school and all my brothers also went to school.

[i] What level did you follow at school?

[r] The first level.

[i] I mean, you studied at school in Turkey and finished high school?

[r] Yes, I went to a language school in Belgium and not to the state school, but my brothers went to the state school, they are now in high school.

[i] Did your brothers go to high school before they learned the language?

[r] No, they learned the language and then they went to school. They first went to language school for a year and then went to high school.

[i] When you started learning the language, tell me, how did it go?

[r] It was difficult, but not very bad. Life here wasn’t that hard for me because I speak English. Usually I spoke English and my life went well, but it was difficult to study at university. I have to finish all the Dutch levels if I want to be accepted by the university. So when I started, I started with something simple, not something difficult like a university or something. I finished three levels. It was a great experience because it was a new language and many things resemble English, so it wasn’t difficult at first. I studied for 5 or 6 months at the CVO school. I passed at all levels because it was easy. It was easy for me because I am used to studying to high pressure and taking exams, so it was easy for me. The CVO school was also not difficult. When I decided to go to university, I discovered that my Dutch level was not enough, which required a very high level of Dutch. So I decided to study Dutch at Linguapolis, a faculty at the University of Antwerp. I went there and passed level 1 and am now on level 2, there is one more exam and then I go to level 3.

[i] What was the most difficult thing in Dutch?

[r] There are many words that are similar. Most words have the same form, but the pronunciation is different, only one or two letters are different. Writing is so difficult. I listen to Dutch, but I play English, so it was very difficult for me. The exam I will take is in writing because I didn’t pass the writing test. Because when I hear a word, I write it in English, but Dutch is completely different. You write what you hear. Writing was very difficult for me and it’s still difficult.

[i] What about listening and speaking?

[r] They are easy, but not very easy. I got excellent marks in oral exams, but writing is very difficult.

[i] So after you get to the third level, you can enroll in college, right?

[r] No, the fifth level.

[i] So after you get the fifth level in Dutch, you can go to college, right?

[r] Yes.

[i] At which university and which faculty?

[r] The University of Ghent, the faculty of journalism.

[i] The faculty of journalism? Why do you want to study in the faculty of journalism?

[r] It has been my dream since I was little, because without the press people wouldn’t know what happened in our country: the war, everything that happens, migration, the suffering of the people, murder and destruction. Without the press, people would know nothing. If nobody writes about what is happening, nobody knows what is happening.

[i] So you want the world to hear your voice and the voice of people who lost their rights, is that your dream?

[r] If Allah wills it, if Allah wills it.

[i] I wish you success.

[r] Thank you.

[i] So you are going to the University of Antwerp, excuse Ghent, right?

[r] Yes, Ghent.

[i] Have you registered or not yet?

[r] No, after completing the fourth level in Dutch, I can register.

[i] How many years are you going to study at the university?

[r] Four years.

[i] Four years?

[r] Yes.

[i] Have you asked the university if they recognise your diploma you obtained in Turkey?

[r] Yes, they accepted it and I translated it. They accepted it because I took the IQ exam of the university test after I got my diploma. I translated it and made it equivalent to the European system (ISO). I can use it to enrol and study at any university.

[i] You mean…

[r] It wasn’t difficult, and the university accepted it. They even contacted my school in Turkey after I told them I was studying there. Just to be sure, because some people use a forged diploma. I studied there and brought the transcriptions, the name of the school and the address and then contacted the school. My diploma is Turkish and not Syrian, so it was legalized by the Turkish Ministry of Education, not by Syrian, so I did not encounter any obstacles.

[i] Tell me about your experiences when you reached Belgium, the pros and cons?

[r] The advantages are that you can dream and you can make your dream come true. You can do what you want to do, you can really make your dreams come true. You can also study what you want to study, because in Syria it is difficult. It is difficult to achieve what you dream about. You only dream, many people only have their dreams, but here you can dream and you can work and study to make your dream come true. Nobody will stop you. You can build your life, nothing is easy of course, we are not in heaven. You can improve yourself, work and do what you want to do. There is no problem in achieving what you want, no one will stop you. If you really want something, and you decide to go for it, then you can do it. Learn the language, study and build something yourself. The disadvantages I encountered here are that some people are racists, or maybe they’re not very open-minded. This was difficult for me. Racism shouldn’t exist in a civilized and developed society. If someone is civilized and educated, he will never be a racist. Racism still exists here. Some people have this problem, although they are educated and civilized and have studied at university. They discriminate, they don’t know the Arab world, our culture, our life and our religion very well. They ask why you wear a headscarf. This is my life and no one has the right to interfere in my life. We respect others, I come from a country that has six languages. We respect others, I come from a country that has six languages. We also have people of different faiths in Syria, but few people know that. Half of us are Christians, the other half are Muslims, and there are also Jews. We have people of many religions, many groups and many languages in Syria, all of them living together in peace. I did not know before that there are atheists in Syria without religion, but we all lived together in peace. Those who have visited Syria know that, they know that racism does not exist in our culture, because we are very simple people and we do not think of such bad things. Everyone can do what they want, in my family there are Christians and Muslims, they live together and no one interferes in the lives of the others. When I came here, I noticed that people are interfering in the lifestyles of others.

[i] Have you encountered any problems because of your headscarf in Belgium?

[r] When I came here, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult. In Turkey there are not many women with headscarves, but a small percentage, but I did not encounter any problems. When I came here, I didn’t expect my headscarf to cause any problems one day. When I enrolled in the language school, I had only been in Belgium for a few months. Because of my headscarf, the teacher ignored me when I talked, she didn’t react to me. I didn’t know why she did that! Is it because I am Arabic or because I wear a headscarf? I don’t know what the problem was. I have encountered problems again, on the tram. After I got off the tram, another woman also got off and started to say mean things to me. I asked her, “What’s going on?”, “Why are you saying this to me?”. I didn’t know what was going on, but another woman from Morocco came to me and translated what she said. Another problem is that people look at girls with headscarves as unskilled people. What you believe has nothing to do with ignorance, because what you believe is something personal. This is my own life, I carry what I want and do what I want. We are now in the 21st century, if we judge people by what they wear, we will never be civilized, we will never be a civilized nation or a civilized society. When I go somewhere, it annoys me when people say mean things or look at me in a mean way or don’t want to be friends with me. Even in college, I don’t have many friends. They try to avoid a friendship with me because I wear a headscarf. They always see us as ignorant people, they don’t talk to us because they think we don’t know much. They think that a girl who covers her hair is covering her thoughts. The problem is that I see that the Jews also cover their heads here, and they are very extremely religious. They don’t go to Belgian schools, they don’t go to university. They have their own schools and their own religious places. All they have is private, they don’t deal with non-Jews and they will never integrate, but they are still respected, nobody says anything about the Jewish, nobody says they are more conservative than Muslims. We go to public schools and universities, we go to public restaurants and we go to shops. We have no problem with that, because we are an open-minded nation, but they are very closed. And yet the people here respect them. Nobody talks about it or says they are ignorant people. Even in some schools here I see teachers or students wearing a cross. I respect that and it doesn’t bother me because your faith is personal, I don’t interfere with other beliefs. Then why do people interfere with our beliefs here? Why do they keep asking me why I wear a headscarf? I wear it for myself, not for you. When I wear a headscarf, I don’t harm you or harm you. My headscarf is something that only belongs to me, it is something that I believe in, something that I respect, and I have my reasons for wearing it. I respect what I do. I will never deny my religion and my traditions to make people happy with me. I know that many girls who came here take off their headscarves because of social pressure and how people look at them, as if they were ignorant. When they don’t wear a headscarf anymore, does that mean that they have become smarter? When people leave their beliefs, do they become smarter? When someone’s beliefs don’t become important to him, does he become smarter? And when someone is a strong believer, does he become ignorant? They say that if you are Muslim and wear your headscarf, that means you are ignorant! Why do we connect beliefs with reason? They always think we won’t achieve anything, because our faith won’t let us develop.

[i] There will soon be municipal elections in Belgium, after a few days the municipal elections will start. Are you worried that the new authorities will ban the headscarf in schools?

[r] There is now a law on schools that prohibits the headscarf for students under the age of 18. The problem is that a civilized society is supposed to respect people’s beliefs. Regardless of who a person is, respect their spirit despite what they look like. Unfortunately, they don’t understand this idea. And if a Muslim girl can’t do what she wants because of her appearance, how will she live in that country? And if she decides to go back to her country, she can’t be who she wants to be. So here we can’t do what we want because of our appearance, and in our country we can’t achieve what we want, because there are no opportunities.

[i] What are you going to do if they ban headscarves in universities?

[r] I would be shocked if they were to go back after all the developments in Europe, a time when we judge people by their looks and not by their actions. I think I would return, I don’t want to stay in a place where I don’t get respect.

[i] Where would you return to?

[r] To Syria or Turkey or a country that respects me.

[i] What are you going to do when you graduate from university and want to work?

[r] Many people told me that I will not find a job because it is difficult to find a job as a journalist. And that my headscarf will make it even more difficult. The people I talked to, Belgians or Arabs, told me that it is very difficult to find a job in journalism, especially with a headscarf. They said, “You’re going to study something, but don’t expect to be able to find a job in it easily”.

[i] So what’s your plan for this problem?

[r] I don’t know yet, maybe I’m not going to college, maybe I’m going to another country where I can find a job in journalism.

[i] Regarding your social life, tell me about the contacts between the Belgians and the Syrians here?

[r] I have two Belgian friends, a friend and a girlfriend. They are very kind and very respectful. In each country you will find open-minded people and narrow-minded people. I have many Belgian friends, I live in a nice place, in a village, Borsbeek. It’s very quiet and the people there are very nice and helpful. When they saw that we were good people, they did not reject us. There is a big difference between Antwerp and the village where I live. I have experienced many problems and difficulties in the city, but when we go to rural areas where there are many elderly people, and not many young people, most of the older people are nice. Only in the city I experienced problems, but the people in my village and my neighbours are very nice. The only problem in a village is that you don’t find everything there.

[i] Do you hang out with your Belgian girlfriend, do you visit her at home or do you learn Dutch from her?

[r] Our friendship is not close, our friendship is not very deep, but I have a Belgian friend, my relationship with him is very good. He is very friendly, he supports me and tells me that wearing a headscarf does not make you ignorant. The percentage of people who look at me as ignorant because of my headscarf is low, but it hurts me what they say. I only have two friends now, although I’ve been in Belgium for a year and a half. A friend and a girlfriend, they have a lot of influence on me. People have a lot of influence on you, because you are sad when they treat you badly, and happy when they treat you well.

[i] What about your dealings with Syrians?

[r] I don’t have many, two or three friends.

[i] What do you do in your daily life?

[r] I take care of my family.

[i] You take care of your family at home!

[r] Not only at home because my father died two months ago, I have to take care of them.

[i] How old was your father when he died?

[r] 42.

[i] That’s sad. What was your feeling like when your father died and you became alone in a foreign country?

[r] It’s very difficult, I was at the heart of it because I’ve never seen my father before. I only lived with him for a few years. When he died, I felt like I still needed him. The first year we lived together in one house was here in Belgium. It was the first year that we were together and I had the feeling that we were just really getting to know each other. It was the first time we were together here in Belgium. So when he died, I was devastated, especially because I have three young brothers. It is difficult for them to grow up without a father. I was devastated, but I accept the will of Allah.

[i] Do you feel that all responsibility to take care of your family now lies with you?

[r] Yes.

[i] Who takes care of the needs of your home and family?

[r] I.

[i] Do you take the responsibility to take care of your three young brothers and your mother?

[r] Yes, as well as my studies and future university studies.

[i] Do you have family members here who can help you when you encounter problems?

[r] No, no one. No family members, just some acquaintances, but those are not close relationships. There is no one here from my family at all.

[i] Does this worry you about the future?

[r] Yes of course! Loneliness frightens us, because we have never before had such a quiet social life as we have today. Moreover, it is difficult to find companionship when you have such grief. And even if I found someone, they would never care about me as much as my father did. Life here is very individualistic.

[i] How do you compare your social life in Syria with your life here?

[r] Social life in Syria is completely different. All people talk to each other, all people know each other and all people visit each other. The relationship between family members, neighbours and friends was very strong. Our neighbours were like family, our friends were like a part of the family. We made no distinction between them. We never asked them: “Who is your family, who is your father, what is your religion?”. Social life in Syria is very good, but there are other things that are not good, there are also disadvantages.

[i] Did you expect to encounter problems because of your headscarf before coming to Europe? And what was your image of Europe before you came and after you came?

[r] Not at all, I didn’t expect to encounter any problems here because of my headscarf. I didn’t expect that at all. I thought no one interfered in people’s lives, no one would be interested in whether I was wearing a headscarf or not. That’s the only thing that shocked me when I came here, that people interfere with what you’re wearing. I thought no one would be interested in what I’m wearing. I thought they’d be interested in who I am, my knowledge, my culture and the level of my education. I was really shocked when I discovered that they interfere with what you wear. This was the problem, I got confused, because how can people here judge others because of their appearance, although they live in a modern society. That’s the only big problem I’ve had here. That and the fact that they didn’t want to rent us an apartment, possibly because we are Arabs. Those are the two biggest problems: finding a house and wearing a headscarf. You notice that some people respect you, but others don’t respect you at all, which has a negative impact on us. I want to work, but I’m worried if they will accept me. I’m worried that they will ask me about my headscarf. I don’t have any hope of finding a job one day, because so many people have told me that I won’t find a job because of my headscarf. That is my biggest concern.

[i] What is your experience with Belgian food?

[r] It is difficult to find food in the region where I live because there are no Halal restaurants. There is no Halal meat at all. The village is very small and there are not many restaurants. The Belgian cuisine is very simple, not like our food that is more difficult to prepare. Most of the food here is not organic either. I notice this difference because I lived in an agricultural area in Syria, with many farms and vegetables. We bought fruit and vegetables directly from the farm.

[i] In Idlip?

[r] Yes, in Idlip. That’s why I notice a big difference, because most of the food here is not organic. Most of the food is not organic and there are not many farms for fruit and vegetables. Maybe we have a similarity in terms of climate, but not in terms of fruit and vegetables. As for meals, I don’t know, I haven’t tried much Belgian food yet. But the food here is not difficult to prepare. It’s not like the Chinese food and it doesn’t take much time to cook. So there is a big difference between our food and their food. Our food is very difficult to prepare, this is a problem for us.

[i] Do you cook at home?

[r] Yes.

[i] Do you cook well?

[r] Yes, very good.

[i] If you want to buy meat, where do you buy it?

[r] At an Arab butcher’s shop that has Halal meat.

[i] Does that butcher live in your village?

[r] No, there is no Arab butcher’s shop in our village. There are no Arab shops, not even Arabic bakeries, nothing like that. All Belgian shops. When we want something, we come to Antwerp to buy Halal meat and Halal food.

[i] What is the name of the village where you live?

[r] Borsbeek.

[i] So do you always go from Borsbeek to Antwerp to buy food?

[r] Yes.

[i] Is it far? How long does it take from there to Antwerp?

[r] From half an hour to 40 minutes.

[i] Do you go shopping once a week?

[r] Yes, once a week.

[i] Isn’t that difficult for you? Do you have a car?

[r] No, I don’t have a car. I go by bus.

[i] Do you go by bus and carry everything yourself?

[r] Yes. Sometimes my mother comes with me, but yes, without a car it is very difficult. Going by bus is annoying because it is sometimes crowded and the buses often arrive too late. I don’t know why they usually arrive too late.

[i] Do you have a driver’s license?

[r] No.

[i] Not even in Syria?

[r] No. I was still young in Syria, 14 years old.

[i] Or in Turkey?

[r] No, but my father had a driving licence in Turkey.

[i] Tell me about the good things you have experienced in Belgian society?

[r] The people in the region where I live are very nice, and they have a very simple life. When you do something for them, even if it’s very simple, they really appreciate it and see it as something big. One day in Ramadan (The month in which Muslims fast) we made Fattoush (a special Syrian salad) and we gave it to our neighbours, we always do that in our country during Ramadan. I was still new in Belgium, I make here the same food that I make there. Our neighbour liked it very much and the next day she came to us and said: “I want to pay you for the salad”. I was surprised because we never charge for what we give as a gift. She was very happy and thought it was such a nice gesture from us. She began to cry and became emotional. She said, “You are good people”. Another situation was with our next neighbors. The neighbor made me a scarf for the winter. She bought wool and made it with her own hands. They are very good for us and we are good for them. Our neighbour who lives among us loves us very much and we love her too. We buy gifts for her and she buys gifts for us. She comes to us all the time and we made her Fattoush. She liked it very much and was very happy. One day she was sick, and I visited her to see how she was doing. She fell on her head. I cleaned the wound for her and took care of her. She started to cry and said, “You are good people”. Her daughter abandoned her. She said: “You are very friendly people and your presence compensates for the absence of my daughter”. My brothers take care of her and I take care of her. She always comes to our house to visit my mother, because my mother rarely leaves the house, especially after my father has died. Although she and my mother do not understand each other very well, they continue to visit each other. She is a very friendly and sweet woman. When my father died, she wept for us. She said, “You get lonely like me. She brought my mother gifts and said to me, “You are like a daughter to me. Don’t be sad when your mother is gone, I will be here as a mother to you. The people in the village are very kind and grateful. They appreciate everything you do for them.

[i] What would you like to say to the new city council?

[r] I want these friendly people to be part of the new city council and influence the decisions. These people have a good impact on us. Just as the bad things have a negative influence on us, the good things have a positive influence. They even help us to forget the racism and the bad things that have happened to us. The good people really help us to forget the bad things that happen to us. Those good people must have a voice in the city council. We want them to have a good influence and compensate for the negative influence.

[i] Some Belgians are worried because they think that the Muslims of Belgium want to make a Muslim country, what would you say to them?

[r] If we wanted to make them Muslims, we would have made the Christians in our own country Muslims too. If we wanted to influence others, we would have done it there. Many Belgians do not know that there are many Christians in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt. The percentage is very high, not 2% or 3%, or 100 or 200 people, there are very many. We have not intervened at all in their convictions. I am not interested in making Muslims, I am only interested in improving my life. Their faith is their choice and I didn’t come here to change it. On the other hand, I don’t want them to try to change us. I’m not at all interested in making them Muslims. If I wanted to make them Muslims, I would have done it with my Christian friends in my country. Everyone has to make their own decision about what they believe. We have our religion and they have their religion. We believe in our religion, we respect it and we grew up with it. I also grew up with Christians in my country. They need to understand that this is not the first time we have seen Christians. In our country we have Christians and churches. If people here were to read history, they would know how many old churches we have in Syria. We love their churches and we respect them because they are part of our history. It is not at all true that we came here to convert them. We love their religion and we respect it. Syria was originally a Christian country in the past. It was not originally a Muslim country and now we are a secular country. We never thought about converting Christians here or in our country. We came here because there are more opportunities in life here. I didn’t come here to change or influence anyone.

[i] What things and memories do you miss from your country?

[r] My relatives in Syria. The relatives of my mother, my grandmother and my grandfather. We always miss them because they are the ones who brought us up and lived with us. We miss our home, our big house we left, our farm. We have no farm, no pool, no land, everything. We miss nature too, we lived in a very natural area. We had a big house, a big farm, a swimming pool and good people in our lives. I miss nature very much.

[i] And your friends in Syria?

[r] I miss them very much.

[i] You don’t have any contact with them anymore?

[r] No… Because I was very young when I left, all contacts were broken. I didn’t know that my friends there were unbelievers until the war started. I lived in Syria for 14 years and grew up with them. I was with them every day. We ate together, we studied together, at the same school, the same high school. We were together the whole time. I didn’t know then that they were unbelievers. This makes me happy that we weren’t interested in each other’s beliefs.

[i] Did the war in Syria destroy your region? Were some of your relatives killed?

[r] Yes, 70% of the area where I lived was completely destroyed; buildings, farms, everything was destroyed. My uncle was killed there during an air raid. Another uncle has been held by the Syrian regime for four years, we don’t know anything about him. My grandfather’s house has been destroyed. The situation in Idlib is very difficult and it is now one of the most dangerous cities in Syria. My grandfather and my grandmothers are there, they did not leave.

[i] Do you think that the revolution in Syria has helped or caused a lot of damage?

[r] No, it caused a lot of destruction and it changed the mentality of people enormously. It created racism, wars between people, many died, bloodshed, many detainees, orphans, martyrs … The war is terrible and many people regret that they started this war.

[i] Finally, what would you like to say to the Belgians?

[r] I would like to say that the Belgians are not fanatical people, they are very nice, but there are some problems they don’t know how to solve, like racism. There are many good people, but there are also many less good people. The voice of the good people is not loud enough. Although there are many good Belgians, we do not hear their voice. Usually during the elections in the municipality or parties, the extreme parties win. There are many good people, they should stand up and their voices should be heard.

[i] About … your fear of the future, now that you live and stay here in Belgium, do you personally think that the situation will get better or worse?

[r] I think it will get better. Because…Belgium should be a real democratic country, because there are people of all convictions here. There are people from different countries, different people. We need a law that respects the beliefs of all these people.

[i] Concerning racism, some people are afraid of the unknown or they are afraid of change, this causes fear in them and they try to protect themselves, do you think that many people do not know your true intentions?

[r] We have no intention of changing other people. First we need to change ourselves, before we start thinking about changing others. Our intentions when we arrived here were not to change others. What do we think about changing others and how we ourselves change? There are many girls and women who took off their headscarves because of the pressure on them. Who here is trying to change others? We stopped thinking about changing others for a long time; we are the ones who are changing now; defending our beliefs became less. We need to be able to protect our own beliefs before we can even think about changing others. As I said, if we wanted to convert people, we would have converted people in our country. We respect the beliefs of all people, but we also expect them to respect our beliefs.

[i] As a journalist in the future…

[r] If Allah wills it.

[i] What do you expect the Belgian media to tell the people?

[r] They should give more good news about refugees and leave out the bad image of them. The media play a very important role. Without the media people would never know what happens in wars. The media have a great influence on people. When they show a good picture of something, people will react positively to it. People will then react in a more focused way to individuals who do the wrong things. Now the media show a very bad image of refugees. That is why many people unintentionally react in a bad way to refugees.

[i] In your opinion, the media are …

[r] The media should show the good things.

[i] …the media are responsible for the negative reactions of people against refugees, right?

[r] Yes, I think so. There are several reasons, not just one.

[i] When a refugee doesn’t do something right…

[r] Yes, they all judge us when one person does something wrong. Just as there are good and bad people in Belgium, there are also good and bad refugees. Every person represents himself, he or she does not represent everyone. When a Syrian does something wrong, judge him or her only, but do not judge all Syrians for what he or she has done. When a refugee who is not even a Syrian does something wrong and is then punished for what he has done, people criticise all refugees. This is not logical, if someone has done something wrong, then just do not punish him or her all the others. Some people do the wrong thing, but others pay for their mistakes.

[i] Thank you very much,[name] ! And I wish you a happy life, and I hope you will overcome all the obstacles that ….

[r] If Allah will.

[i] … stand in your way now and in the future. I also wish you to find people who have a merciful and kind heart to compensate for the death of your father.

[r] Thank you!

[i] And I hope that you will find the people who assist you in this difficult life here. Thank you.

[r] Thank you!