[i] Can you introduce yourself? Who are you?

[r] I am [name], I am 29 years old, I am from Syria. I am married and have three children, two sons and one daughter. I studied marketing at the University of Aleppo. I like to cook, that’s my hobby.

[i] You like to cook?

[r] Yes, I like to cook. I also like to read, and I like to surf the internet.

[i] Do you remember what your earliest memory is?

[r] Yes, when I was little, I started my first year. That was really a year for me, I wanted to start learning to write and read. I was always first in my class.

[i] A good student?

[r] Yes, very good. That was in 1996. On the other hand, it was also a bad year for me, because my daddy died then.

[i] In ’96?

[r] Yes, in ’96. I was in the first year.

[i] How old were you?

[r] I was almost six and a half years old.

[i] What happened to your daddy then?

[r] He had a problem with his heart. He had that for almost three or five years, I’m not sure, because I was little then. He got into trouble and had to go to the hospital a lot, and then he died.

[i] That memory is still alive?

[r] Yes.

[i] In your head, because your father had died? You were six then? Where did you live then? In which house, what was it like in the past?

[r] I lived in a village called Saraqib. It is in the province of Idlib. Idlib is a small town and in Syria it is also a forgotten state. There were 600 people living there in 2008. Idlib is located 24 kilometers from Turkey. My city is almost 50 kilometers from Turkey. The people there are friendly. We want to visit each other. If anyone has a problem, everyone comes there to visit him. They ask what happened. If someone has to go to the hospital or has an illness, many people come to visit that person. In the hospital, at that moment. They don’t wait for him/her to return home. Immediately to the hospital, and they ask how it goes. If that person needs help, it is offered by everyone.

[i] How many inhabitants does Saraqib have? 1000?

[r] Almost 6000.

[i] A very small town.

[r] Yes. Uh… 60,000 sorry.

[i] 60,000 okay. Can you tell us anything about your family? Your brothers, your sisters.

[r] We are a big family, because my daddy was married to two women. With my mum and with someone else.

[r] My mama has nine children, four girls and five boys. Auntie has two sons and three daughters. We lived in the same house, we had a big house. The house has two floors. Downstairs there were also two departments. First we ate and played together, we had no problems with each other.

[i] Can you tell us anything about your childhood? Growing up in Syria used to be.

[r] Sorry?

[i] Can you tell us something about your childhood, about going to school? Until when did you go to school, when did you start working, how old were you?

[r] Until 2003, when I was almost 13 years old, I was in eighth grade. When I was 13 years old, I started my first job. I used to work in the holidays, or on the weekends. With my cousin, my cousin had a small business with decoration and gyproc.

[i] A business?

[r] A small business, as a self-employed person. I wanted to work with him during the holidays. I didn’t have a holiday to play or to go swimming. I didn’t want to, because I wanted to learn a profession, with my studies. Because the situation in Syria was a problem. If you can’t study well, you have to have a job. That’s important for someone from Syria. Because life is difficult there, you have to work and study. If with your studies… I have a story for you of such a situation. Someone was studying at the university. When he graduated, he had to work in construction abroad at another agency.

[i] Like your brother, who had already gone abroad to work before?

[r] Yes. My brother… In 2006 he left for Cyprus. He stayed there for three years. He worked there for three years in the construction sector.

[i] Who?

[r] Ahmad.

[i] Ahmad, okay, your eldest brother?

[r] Yes, now he’s dead. He worked for three years in Cyprus, in the construction sector. He came back after three years, and is married to his wife. And then he was in… Normally you have to leave Syria for one month, for example to… Then you have to do your military service. Someone of 18 years old has to serve in the army.

[i] Army service?

[r] Yes, 19 years old.

[i] In Dutch it’s called military service…

[r] Army service

[i] Army service, did you do that, too?

[r] No, I didn’t do that because I was a student. I gave a stamped paper from my university every year. That’s how they made me study automatically for one year.

[i] So you started working when you were 13 years old. And then started studying at the university in Aleppo, marketing as you said. How was life in Syria, Saraqib, Aleppo for you? Before the war. For 2011, 2012?

[r] 2012.

[i] For 2012, how was life?

[r] I think it was a normal life, it was good. It was reasonably safe. No weapons, no air bombs, no drones with TNT they throw at you. You could then go outside with your family, to travel within the city. You could then go to a coffee shop with your friends after work. To sit together. But later, in 2012, all that changed. I couldn’t get out of my house anymore. If I wanted to do that, I would have a problem. My mom told me to stay inside, it was dangerous out there. Because the bombs from the government army always came at us. Sometimes 20 bombs, sometimes 30 bombs. If you were to walk down the street, the bombs might fall on me, or on our house.

[i] But life before the war was also a dictatorship, wasn’t it?

[r] Yes.

[I] For there were also people arrested who had to go to prison, weren’t there? From your family, too?

[r] Yes, I tell you about the situation in general, about life. But you can’t talk about a political life, I call it a political life. It’s literally the case that you can’t even open your mouth when you have to go to the dentist. For example, if I don’t like Bashar Assad, that’s a big problem. Then you don’t believe in the God? Because for the people who love Bashar Assad he is a God. You should always pray for him, not for another god, but especially for him, yes yes. If you want, you can watch it on YouTube. I saw that in a movie, someone who tells a child to say: “Bashar Assad is my God. And that child says: ‘No, Bashar Assad is not my God.’ Then they killed him.

[i] You told me about your cousin who used to be in prison.

[r] Yes, I’ll tell you. In Syria… there are many people who work under the table with the government. For example, I have a friend. I always go for a walk with him and I always eat with him. But he actually works in secret with Bashar Assad. Then he passes on all the information. For example, I have a cousin. I used to know everything about him. I knew everything, his name is Ibrahim. He was still a boy then. He was in military service. When he came back, in 1982, there was another problem with Hafiz Assad, the father of Bashar Assad. It was about the same problem. You can find it on the internet. There was a group against Hafiz Assad, they fought against each other. But my cousin was in his military service in Damascus, another city. The problems then were in Hama. Sometimes in Idlib and sometimes in Aleppo. When he came home from his military service, two or three days later, the secret service of the police came and they took him away. That was in 1982. He left with them, to whom or to where? Nobody knows. For 15 years his family wondered where Ibrahim was. They asked the security guards where Ibrahim was, but they said they didn’t know. After 15 years his mother kept asking where he was. The people from the government went to his house and took him away. She told them that they could question him a little and then bring him back home. But he did not come back. After 15 years they went looking for him. After 16 or 17 years they found him in Palmyra. There is a large, old prison. When someone talks about the government, it has no place in society. He has to go to prison. For 15 years he couldn’t see the light, he had to stay downstairs forever.

[i] In the basement?

[r] Yes, always in the basement. Palmyra is, you know, Palmyra is an old town. But underground there is a large and old prison. If you shout loudly, no one will hear you. Whenever you were against the government, you were taken there. There was no medication, for example you got a piece of potato for the whole day. Afterwards you were always whipped. If you said something bad, you had to walk around with something at your feet. Or they would burn you with fire. Or you got whipped with cables.

[i] And what happened to Ibrahim after that? Have you seen him before?

[r] Yes, and for Ibrahim it is a long story. For example, I wanted to go to Lebanon, which is normal. We have a three-month holiday every year. I had gone to Lebanon to work, to make money. On the border with Lebanon, on the Syrian side, they asked me: ‘What do you know about Ibrahim?’ ‘Who is Ibrahim?’ ‘Ibrahim your cousin.’  “Ibrahim, my cousin, yes, what is wrong with him?” “We ask you what you know about Ibrahim. I know everything. He has been in prison since 1982, my year of birth is 1989. How can I know anything about Ibrahim? I’ve heard of someone named Ibrahim in the family, but I’ve never seen him.

[r] ‘Ah okay, go on.’ If you wanted to look for a job, my cousin also did his military service, they also asked for Ibrahim: ‘What do you know about Ibrahim?’  I’m as old as Mohamad, he’s from 1987. ‘I don’t know everything about Ibrahim.’ He didn’t get Kalashnikov and always had to sit on the couch. Because he was Ibrahim’s cousin, who was taken by the government in 1982. He had done nothing wrong. But I’m going to give you another example: If I know you, and I work in secret for the government, I can pass on a message about you to them. This man is not good, he always talks about Bashar Assad, or Hafiz Assad. Then you get a stamp and it’s over. Maybe you get 30 years or 40 years imprisonment, and your family knows nothing about you.

[i] After that Ibrahim was free?

[r] Yes, almost in 2006. His family no longer knew who he was. We asked a lot about him, but they told us that they knew nothing about Ibrahim. He has been in prison for 25 years. Upon release they said, “Sorry we were wrong, please forgive us. After 25 years.

[i] But he was in prison because he had spoken badly about Assad?

[r] No no, but as I told you, anyone can write something about you. He talks about the government, he talks about the police, he gets guns, he gets Kalashnikovs’ but that’s not true. Anything to mention just one name. I know the name of a person who works for the security police. He always writes a report for the government. For example… During the presidential elections we had Bashar Assad, Bashar Hafiz Assad and Bashar Suleyman Hafiz Assad. From these three names, you had to choose one president. Bashar Assad, Bashar Hafiz Assad, that is the same name as Bashar Suleyman Hafiz Assad. That is the grandfather, the father and Bashar. That’s actually one person. It’s a game, but you have to choose. Who do you want to choose? Bashar Assad. If you don’t vote, you have a problem. Then they ask, “Why haven’t you been? I didn’t see you there. No no, I went to school. In the school you had to vote. Where you had to put the ballot paper in a box. In the school, that was in the school. I told him: “I went there”, but he told me he hadn’t seen me. “I want to go back again.” Okay.  I was small, almost 16 years old.

[i] And that’s when the war started? Then you were studying in Aleppo?

[r] Yes.

[i] What had happened then?

[r] When the war started, I went to college. I started my studies in 2009.  I already told you that I studied marketing. I used to go back and forth to Aleppo on a small bus. There was a checkpoint during the war. They always asked me: ‘What city are you from?’ ‘I’m from Saraqib.’ Before all the weapons, planes and everything came, the government army came to our village. And then they left again. That was a difficult time. When I went to Aleppo they asked me at a checkpoint where I came from: ‘Are you from Saraqib, yes? Then you are ISIS. Why ISIS? I am a student,’ I said, ‘No no no, you are ISIS. If you are from the province of Idlib, you are with ISIS. “Okay, what’s going to happen in Aleppo today? I said “I don’t know what’s going to happen in Aleppo. “No no, you know everything about what’s going to happen at the university. After maybe an hour the bus left, but I had to wait with them. The next bus came, and it also left. That happened once or twice. The same questions again. For example, if I was someone who wasn’t fun for the soldiers, I would be taken straight to the prison. Why? Because I can’t stand you. You have to go to prison. That was normal. They always decided the same thing, the people who worked for the government. You had to get off at the checkpoint. For example, if you smiled, that was not good. You had to go to prison, get off!

[i] And then you got scared, and you didn’t go to…

[r] Yes, I was afraid, because at any moment I thought, “I want to die now. That’s a problem. Weapons, tanks, Kalashnikovs, dynamite, everything. Soldiers in full outfit. Complete war, but there was no one. And the federal security service… That group consists of the army, the police and the security service. The security guards had to come from Alawi, the place where the family of Bashar Assad comes from. Other people came from other families, that was no problem.

[i] When the war started, what was it like for you in Saraqib?

[r] You mean what happened, and what was the problem in Saraqib with Bashar Assad? The first time, life was difficult everywhere. But before the war, in 2012, there was a problem in Daraa, which is a province in Syria. Then the people from my village rose up against what was happening in Daraa. I think it happened in Daraa or not, but the children wrote on the walls that Bashar was not allowed to stay in power anymore. That happened and I saw it on TV. You heard what happened in Libya and Egypt. The others were playing on the wall. And then there was a man, Atef Najib, who was a responsible general there. He made the decision to pull out the fingernails of all the children. That was the first time in 2012, 15 March. And then they revolted in my house against what happened to the children. Why was that allowed? Then the police came to our village. There they shot a group of people with Kalashnikovs, I saw that. They shot the people with Kalashnikovs. Just for that reason. Why asked or released? The first time people asked: ‘Bashar Assad, please, try everything (????)’ For example, I am a student and I want to finish my studies, but I don’t have a job. I want to leave for Syria, and may not be able to return after three, four or five years. To build a future. But that’s not true in Syria, you always have to stay, because that’s what the government decides. For example, you can’t just work and start a business. You have to pay money to a lot of people. If you want to start a small business. You have to pay more taxes to the government, but the government doesn’t give people everything back. For example, if you don’t have a job here in Belgium, the PCSW gives you support. If you want a job, you have to pay taxes. That’s normal, that’s a good system. But there you have to pay, but the government doesn’t allow you to take anything. But people do say to him: ‘Please, try to use the situation in Syria’. We have petroleum, we have tourism. We have nice places to visit for Europeans. I know that every year Europeans came to Syria to visit the country. Because there are old buildings, and the weather is good. But there is no money for the people. It all goes to the family of Bashar Assad. If you want to make a toilet, you have to pay to Bashar Assad. Not for you.

[i] And what happened to your family when the army came to your village?

[r] In 2012, on March 23rd, the army came to our village. The first time I was asleep. I heard the people on the street shouting: ‘The army tanks are coming to Saraqib!’ ‘All of you stay in your house, and don’t come out.’ I had stayed at home and went to our terrace. I looked from our terrace to the other side. I saw weapons, tanks and soldiers shouting: ‘No one is allowed to stay on the streets, in your houses!’. That is normal. My brother Ahmad was at work. When he heard that, he immediately came back. It was almost nine thirty in the morning. First, where we live is at the beginning of the street. The first house is our house. They came to our house and asked for our identity card. And it is normal for our family that there are many people. My sisters visit us every Saturday or every Friday. And that was in 2012. On March 23, 2012 they were just visiting us. I have seven sisters, and each sister has at least two or three children. So we were with a lot of people. When the army came to us, they could not return to their homes. They had to stay with us. They came in and the general asked for our identity cards. Here’s my identity card. I was there, Ahmad, my sister’s husband, my little brother, Abderahmad and my cousin. He lives near us in an apartment. He lives near our house, and visited us. They checked the identity cards, okay no problem. The soldiers went on to the first floor, and checked everything, no problem. Okay.

[i] So they went to the first floor to check, too?

[r] They checked everything, but found nothing. Because I already told you that we didn’t have any weapons. We’re simple people, I’m a student, my brother just works. We work to live, to eat and to drink. Then they’re gone. From that moment on, we ran out of electricity. It was between winter and summer, it was spring. No electricity, no water, and that took three days, or four. I’m not sure. On the second day, it was almost six o’clock in the morning. And we heard a lot of noise, what happened? We walked to the other side of our house. We have two departments downstairs. We all went to the window. My cousin’s family was sitting in their house near us. They cannot walk or walk, they are in a wheelchair. They could not go outside to come to us, that was a problem. Then you were immediately considered to be someone from ISIS. You became a target of the soldiers. When someone came out of his house, he was a target for the army. They tried to bring them to us from the wall on the other side. There was a bad smell, from the bombings. After almost an hour of trying, they could go back to the other side. The soldiers came, and Ahmad and Imad walked out to ask why we were bombed. Why we were shot at with RPG rocket launchers. I told them that’s not our job, that it would cause a big problem. ‘They will kill you.’ No’ he said ‘I want to ask and then come back’. So they left, and were almost 100 meters away from our house. They asked, “Please, why are you shooting us with the RPG? We are human beings, we are at home with a large family with children. The general immediately said: ‘You have 15 minutes, if your building is not free then we will come in with the tank on it’. Ahmad said: ‘Okay, okay, calm down, okay.’ and they both went back. He told me we had to empty our house. We have to flee with our family to the house of my aunt and uncle. That’s what we have to do. When we went outside, everything was destroyed. All the walls of the second floor were on the ground. We did not know what had happened. We left, and there were men, soldiers and generals, who shouted, “All men must come back to us. I was there with Mohammad’s son, who was five months old at the time. I gestured with my hand that I couldn’t hear it, and left. Ahmad did leave for them. I shouted at him to come back, but he said: ‘No no, we don’t have any problems with the government, and we’ll be back in five minutes’. ‘It’s okay, go away!’ I went to my aunt’s house. I waited five to six hours for him. But Ahmad didn’t come back, something was wrong. She was visiting her family. To know what the problem was. He was not normally followed by the army. It is a problem for her, that they shot him. But she went away from them, between the trees. There is a place where there are more trees. And between the trees she could walk away. When she came back to the house, she saw Ahmad and Imad lying on the floor, with blood running over the ground. That’s how she told us. Then we could not take them to our house. Because, as I told you, it was evening. At almost 9 p.m. the soldiers came with a small car. We had to clean the street with our hands on the ground. Come on! He took a group of people with him and always said: ‘You and you and you come with him’. They came to pick us up and dropped us off at home. What was the problem? Why? Until today I still don’t know.

[i] And afterwards, what happened to you afterwards? That’s what happened to your brothers, and afterwards? What happened afterwards?

[r] What do you mean?

[i] After the army came, people had been shot: your brother and your sister’s husband. Did the army leave after that? Were there any bombs after that? Or what happened?

[Interpreter translates into Arabic]

[r] Then, no, they didn’t stay in our house, they left immediately. Because they, too, were really scared. They too were afraid. By ISIS. That is a game of the government. The soldiers weren’t sure either. Back in the day, I’m talking about the old days, 2012. The soldiers weren’t sure if there were ISIS members inside. They didn’t just walk into the houses, maybe ISIS was there.

[i] Were there members of ISIS in Saraqib?

[r] No ISIS.

[i] Was it later, after that?

[r] Later in 2014, almost in 2013, a new group emerged. They said: ‘We are a country of Islam’ If you agreed with their opinion there was no problem, but if you didn’t agree, you were disbelieving. Then you were a target for them.

[i] The army left then, did they come back with planes and bombs?

[r] Sorry?

[i] The war had started, the army had come, they shot down your family. What happened to you afterwards? Did you keep waiting there?

[r] I was in Syria until 2015. I saw almost everything. You could always see planes, which threw bombs on the people. Maybe after four days a helicopter came to our village, with five drones full of TNT. The pilot then has to throw everything at a village. He didn’t think about the people, the children, the women, he didn’t have any problems with that. They even knew that there was no ISIS downstairs. Because they started in 2013. Then there was no ISIS, where was ISIS? I’ve seen drones explode downstairs. That was before Russia and Bashar made a deal. The problems only really started to get big when Russia arrived in Syria.

[i] When did I flee Syria and why?

[r] Me?

[i] Yes.

[r] Now I will continue in English. Because the situation in Syria was not good. I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t find food for my family. Because all the people there were afraid of the planes. They couldn’t do anything in their house, they couldn’t do any repairs. If, for example, the windows were broken on the ground, you wouldn’t be able to repair it immediately. Because the next day, or the same day, another plane could come to your village to destroy everything. So you couldn’t find a job. If you had lessons at the university, they didn’t always go on. If you were a normal employee, you couldn’t find a job. You couldn’t find any diesel or electricity. For example, you had to pay 10000 Lira every month, which is more than I had. That was a problem, because I couldn’t find a job. I stayed in Syria between three and four years. That was a problem for me, so I thought: I have to change everything. The first time I was refused to leave my family behind. It wasn’t easy.

[i] Were you already married?

[r] Yes, every time I thought: If I would come to Belgium I would have Mohammad living there, that’s good. But then my family stayed behind.

[i] But did you already have a wife in Syria?

[r] Yes, I had a wife and children. And my mother and sisters were still in Syria. I always thought: I’m not going to travel. But the last time my mother told me to change my life. And that if I stayed there, I wouldn’t find anything. So I tried. Mohammad called me and said: ‘Life is better here. If we can work together later, we can send money for my family. Then I accepted the idea that I would travel. But I had no idea where, or I didn’t know how. It was a dangerous transition to go from Syria to Turkey. That was not easy. It was difficult to get into Turkey. There are more soldiers and snipers.

[i] And checkpoints maybe?

[r] No, yes also more checkpoints. But there were many people working near the border. Then you had to pay them for example 200 or 300 euros, to get into Turkey. But in 2015 it wasn’t that difficult. It was also difficult, but not as it is now. The first village was Antakya. The first city, sorry.

[i] Antalya?

[r] Antakya, in Hatay, that was a big city. I could go there to a son of my sister. I stayed one week in Turkey. I also stayed in Bodrum for three days. I waited there for a man to take me to Greece. I paid him 850 euros. Then he took me to a small boat. A small boat, meant for ten people. But there were 45 of us in that small boat. We got on that boat with 45 people. After an hour of sailing, we arrived at Chios, which is a Greek island. The police were watching us, and we had to go with them immediately. And they asked us where we came from. We said we came from Syria. Okay, welcome. Don’t worry, we’ll take you to a safe place. We went to a small camp and stayed there for four days. And then they gave me, and everyone, a letter allowing you to travel freely through Greece. I found that difficult. I didn’t have the internet to contact my family in Syria. But I was with a Turkish provider. Sometimes I had a network connection, and sometimes I didn’t. In Chios it was. When I left for Assina in Greece, I bought a SIM card, a Vodafone SIM, and called my family. I told them I was in Greece and they were happy. But the journey was not over yet. That was the first step on the road. I didn’t know what to do next. I went to the island of Anazer, because Greece is big. I also went to Crete. I stayed there for seven days. There I looked for someone who could help me. There were a lot of people on that island who worked in the transfer business. To bring people from Greece to Europe. But you had to pay them 5000 euros. 5000 euros, sometimes more or less. I found a man who helped me. He arranged a passport for me. I paid him 3000 euros. That was good for him. And so I went directly to Mohammad in Brussels.

[i] I’m going to see where my friend is. But the last part was different from what you told me. But later I will ask you about it. We’ll talk a bit more about Belgium when I get back. Would you please stay here for a while?.

[i] Back in Dutch, all right?

[r] Yes.

[i] What was it like, the first day you arrived in Brussels? What did you do? The commissariat, or something else, or your brother, what was it like?

[r] At the first moment I saw Mohammad. I went to his house for one day. Then I went to the commissariat in Brussels. I applied there, and they sent me to the asylum centre in Kapellen. I stayed there for six months. I did two interviews and the advice was positive. They gave me a temporary residence permit. I don’t know why.

[i] That’s one year?

[r] For one year, and then renew. Every year I have to renew it, this month as well.

[r] I will be able to pick up a Belgian identity card later on.

[i] What was it like when you saw Mohammad again, here in Belgium? What did you feel then?

[r] I have a quiet and good life here with Mohammad.

[i] No, but the first day, you arrived here?

Yes, that was very good, I couldn’t believe it. Mohammad could not believe that I had reached Belgium. After not seeing each other for one year.

[i] What was it like in Kapellen, in the centre?

[r] The centre was good, but most of the time I spent at Mohammad’s house. And always eating Syrian, eating Syrian dishes. I can’t eat in another country, once or twice, but always… Eating in another country is not good for me, I don’t think for anyone.

[i] So after six months of chapels, you got papers for one year?

[r] For one year yes. I had a positive answer after one year. Then I looked for an apartment, and found one in Berchem. I lived there for two and a half years, and then I left for Hoboken. Now I live in Hoboken. The first time I went to school in Antwerp to learn Dutch. That is important. I’m not going to talk about it, because that story is too long. I started with Dutch, which was a bit difficult for me, but not very difficult because I understand some words from English. And I know everything about grammar in English. After a year and a half I registered with the VDAB to look for work. I said I had experience with the computer. They sent me to Intec Brussels to follow a training course. I did three tests in Brussels. After three tests, I received a positive response. Then I started IT training in Brussels. I’m almost finished now, and I’m still unemployed, looking for a job. Yesterday, I received money from the PCSW, but I might want to give the PCSW money back from next month. Paying taxes.

[i] And when did your family come?

[r] My family came here on 10 November 2016. I waited almost a year and three months for them. That was different for them. I left my wife pregnant. She gave birth in Syria, and then came here. They first went to Turkey, to the consulate there. They gave all the documents they needed to come here. After six months she picked up their visas and left here with the children.

[i] With the two children?

[r] No, I have three now. One daughter and two sons.

[i] All born in Syria?

[r] Yes in Syria.

[i] What was it like, you also did volunteer work?

[r] Yes, I certainly did. I worked in a centre for old people. There I worked as a volunteer. I have always looked for volunteer work because it is good to practice your Dutch. I fed the old people, and then I could talk to them. That way I could already hear some dialect. You can hear the original dialect there.

[i] How long was that?

[r] Almost six months. I also worked at Jazz Middelheim, a festival that takes place every year in Antwerp. In the big park.

[i] They are also looking for volunteers at music performances. You could do that every year if you want.

[r] That’s how you get to know new people, with Belgians.

[i] How was the contact with the old people? Were they afraid of you?

[r] No no no, because I worked four days a week. I had no job. To practice Dutch, I had to go there. Always, when I wasn’t there, the assistant of the nursing home said: ‘Yesterday you weren’t there, and many people asked where [name] was’. I always helped them to bring them to their room.

[i] Push the wheelchair, help get up?

[r] Yes

Walking outside?

[r] No, don’t walk, because they were all sick.

[i] They had to stay inside?

Yes, inside the care center, on the Air Ball.

[i] Have you had problems with discrimination in Belgium?

[r] No, I don’t want to see that. But when I see that it is normal, because I say something wrong. Sometimes they don’t understand me when I say something to old people. And when they don’t understand you, they sometimes shout at you, “I don’t have time to understand you. That’s normal. That happened in the beginning, when I couldn’t speak Dutch yet. You have to bring an interpreter with you. I think it’s her right, because she has more jobs [??] . Or sometimes I would say ‘No, relax, I don’t understand you. Can you repeat it? Not too fast. In order to understand someone, you can find a solution. And for my Dutch it is important that I have a friend here, a Belgian. He is also 29 years old and also studied marketing. He always sent e-mails about it. I started to speak English with him. Three to four months. But then he started coaching me in Dutch. We used to play squash, or cycle in Antwerp, sometimes by car. He always told me what the traffic rules were, to get the driver’s license. He taught me the traffic signs and told me, for example, that there was a danger sign. In Dutch.

[i] And now you have your license?

[r] Yes, I got my license in Belgium, in Dutch. I tried it twice in Arabic, but I didn’t pass. When I tried it in Dutch, I had succeeded. With practice and theory. Dutch-speaking!

[i] Do you still have a lot of contact with family members in Syria?

[r] Yes, every day. Almost every day, with whatsapp on the phone. I have contact with my mother and my sisters.

[i] How is it now?

[r] Sorry?

[i] How is it now in Saraqib, good or…?

[r] No, not good at all. But now Turkey and Russia have contact with each other. They say: ‘Idlib is the red line where we don’t use weapons and tanks anymore’. On the other side of Idlib, Northern Syria, there are no problems, there is the free army. No more weapons, no more tanks. But on the government side there are still tanks. They think they might invade Idlib again later on. They always say on TV: ‘We’re going to come to Idlib and we’re going to cut you with knives. We are going to attack the people with the knives or shoot them. That’s always on TV, you can see that on YouTube. It’s a dangerous place.

[i] How is the economy in Saraqib? Do you and Mohammad send money to family?

[r] Yes, me and Mohammad always send money to mama, because everything is expensive. To be able to buy diesel. Now winter is coming, so it is important to send her more money. When I find work, I want to send more to her.

[i] How much money do you send?

[r] Almost 200 euros now.

[i] Per week?

[r] Per month. Maybe 300 euros.

[i] And without that money?

[r] No

If they didn’t get money?

[r] No.

[i] What would happen?

[r] Then there is a big problem. If she didn’t get any money, that’s a problem. Imagine, how can anyone live there? They don’t have food and they don’t have water. If you wanted to drink, you had to think about whether you could drink four or two glasses of water that day. That’s a problem when the water is gone and you don’t have the money to get water.

[i] Is the water expensive?

[r] Expensive, everything is expensive! You have to pay almost 100 euros per month for electricity and water. For many people this is a problem. They can’t find a job.

[i] Are you happy here now?

[r] Quiet here?

[i] Happy.

[r] Yes, I am happy here in Belgium, sure! It is a different country. Other people, but step by step you can be the great … Step by step you can… How should I put it. Step by step you can reach the top of the mountain. I have to work.

[i] In the IT sector…

[r] The IT sector is very good. The companies then come to Intec for an interview. I have given them my CV and if they need an employee, they will call me immediately.

[i] Do you want to go back to Syria? I don’t think so. Where should I return to? Many of my friends are underground, dead. Most of my friends and family are dead. Where should I return to? I want to try to bring my mother here. That’s difficult, but if I have a job and so is Mohammad, maybe. Then we can pay everything for my mother through the consulate in Turkey. She is 60 years old and has a problem with her sugar. She has a blood problem. She can’t always stand or sit. No one is with her. I have a brother, but he is not always with her.

[i] How is life for your children here in Belgium? Good?

[r] Yes, it is very good for my children here. You can find everything here.

[i] Do they speak Arabic and Dutch?

[r] Yes, they speak good Dutch. I always ask my children’s teacher, and she says that they speak good Dutch. And at the same time they also learn Arabic. There is a group of volunteers in Antwerp who learn that. My wife goes there with my children every Saturday. To teach that to my children. It’s important to learn the Arabic language, because that’s my mother tongue.

[i] What is the name of this group of volunteers?

[r] It’s called Asalam school. Close to Berchem, no not Berchem. Close to Plantijn. Plantijn in Antwerp. Close to the stop of the Lamorinièrestraat.

[i] The group of the mosque?

[r] From what?

[i] From the mosque?

[r] No no a normal group.

[i] Volunteers?

[r] Yes, volunteers. There is a man, his name is Hassan, he studied Arabic in Syria. He thinks it is important that people here also learn the Arabic language. With his company, a volunteer company, he tries to help many people. After that he made a big school. First it was a small school, now there are almost 100 children. 100 children come to that school every Saturday. The city of Antwerp has promised them subsidies to help the project succeed.

[i] Do you want to add something extra, say something important?

[r] It is important to remember that when someone comes to Belgium or Europe, they know that there are still people living in their country. I live well here and can get a good job, but I will never forget the people in Syria. I’m not just saying this for refugees, or people from Syria. This is a message for all people from all over the world. Not especially for the refugees. There are many people there who don’t have food, or don’t have a man who can buy food. Because they are dead. There are families without a father, just the children and a woman. That is a big problem. There are no schools there. Now there are children of 11 years old who cannot read or write. I know that in a small village, sorry, I am now doing a long story. But I know a small project in a place near Turkey, which is in a small village. There are almost 2 classes. Every year there are two or three children who are born. Doctors go to university. But if there is no money, they want to close the school. There are no teachers to teach the children things. Few people live there. There is also no money to make something. There is no money for blackboard chalk. No books, that is a problem. There are many smart people in Syria. I saw that in Germany. Doctors and engineers make everything big. In Syria we can’t do that, we have to think small there. But here everything is open.  If you want to study at the university, no problem go. You take a test and you can enrol at a university. For example. Here you can find everything. The government helps you to become stronger.

[i] Okay, great, thank you.