Mustafa Aljaradi (31) comes from Raqqa, Syria. He is a political refugee. In his native country he strongly criticized Assad’s regime and ISIS. However, out of fear of retaliation, he fled to Turkey three years ago and finally reached the Netherlands through Germany. He feels it’s his duty to raise the world’s awareness. On Facebook and Twitter (@Mjaradie) he shows us, through writings and images, the terrible consequences of the Syrian civil war.
Before his arrival in the Netherlands Mustafa had to register his fingerprints in Germany, which slowed down the procedure. In the Netherlands he noticed the prejudices and the disunity about the refugee issues, so he is an advocate for the availability of more background information about refugees so that the general public can revise their opinion. Concerning integration he believes that the best way to fit in one’s society is to master its language. For this purpose, he has a few practical tips at hand.
Arrival in the Netherlands
Mustafa talks about how his ignorance about the consequences of registering fingerprints in the European country of arrival have delayed his procedure. Before he arrived in the Netherlands a year and a half ago, he had to register his fingerprints in Germany. He refers to the Dublin Regulation. Mustafa appears to be well informed about the content of this treaty, which was not known to him when he arrived in Europe.
It took more than a year before the Netherlands reached an agreement with Germany about who was responsible for his asylum application
It took more than a year before the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS) reached an agreement with Germany about who was responsible for his asylum application. He eventually received good news from the INS: he was allowed to pursue his application in the Netherlands instead of being send back to Germany to start over again. Nevertheless, Mustafa says: “My life’s on hold since my arrival in the Netherlands. Waiting, waiting, waiting…” He smiles gently. “The waiting is the most difficult aspect of my procedure.”
Prejudices and disunity
According to Mustafa there are various prejudices concerning refugees. There were, for instance, regularly demonstrators at the entree of his asylum centre. “People are primarily scared,” Mustafa explains. “They are afraid of incidents like in Cologne or terrorist attacks. They frequently accuse us of being fortune-hunters who only came here for economic benefits.” Mustafa sighed. “Sometimes I can’t blame them for their prejudices. The Dutch people who demonstrate against refugees don’t know the Syrian culture. They are not interested in starting a conversation with me.” Mustafa laughs for a moment but then continues again in a serious tone: “People think we come from the jungle. Our facilities may not be as advanced as in Europe, but before the start of the Syrian civil war we had a decent education system and good health care. “
“Sometimes I can’t blame them for their prejudices”
He acknowledges the disunity concerning the refugee debate. Europeans seem to be firmly “for” or “against” refugees. Only a few civilians take a neutral position. “What is happening now in this society is an universal issue. It says nothing about the Netherlands. I believe that there is a distinction between “us” and “them” in all countries over the world, not only within Europe.”
“What is happening now in this society is an universal issue. It says nothing about the Netherlands”
He reflects a moment when he is asked about how, in his opinion, this disunity can be resolved. “I’m afraid that it’s not always possible now to close the gap between people,” he eventually sighed. “There are too many heated arguments as well as a striking increase of both nationalism and populism. Herein lies a great danger. Even if I don’t consider my own situation, I can still see pitfalls of this increase. The Netherlands is a small country with a good economy. If they close their borders, it would create economic problems.”
Dutch School girl: “My mother says that you refugees only sit on a couch, receive 200 euros a week, but are not willing to do anything for it in exchange”
Mustafa thinks it’s important to reduce prejudices and to inform the Dutch people. “I think it’s important that people know what’s happening in Syria so they can change their mind about Syrian refugees.” A friend tells him that during an information session a girl raised her hand and said: “My mother says that you people only sit on a couch, receive 200 euros a week, but are not willing to do anything for it in exchange.” Mustafa explains that he receives 58 euros a week to shop for groceries and that he’d love to work or study but that it’s impossible as long as his application is processing. “I think that the Dutch population is not always correctly informed. The propaganda of right-wing parties unfortunately cause a lot of fear and promote the circulation of negative information.”
Language plays a vital role in the integration process. Mustafa currently makes do, on his own initiative, with free language courses that are offered online. “I wanted to participate in a language course, but I first had to wait for my residence permit.” Now that he knows that his application is processing in the Netherlands, he searches for videos on YouTube to practice his Dutch. “The key to integration is language. If you can speak English well or a little bit of Dutch it will help you get off to a good start. I was lucky that I was able to process my application here. Dutch people in general often speak English easily, which makes it possible for me to get to know people.” Mustafa argues: “Don’t wait to offer a language course until after refugees received their residence permit because the whole procedure often takes a few years.”
“I wanted to participate in a language course, but I first had to wait for my residence permit”
According to Mustafa the best way to integrate as a refugee is to experience the local Dutch culture. “Last year I enthusiastically celebrated the national King’s day.” He liked this very much. “Some refugees are inclined to stay home because they don’t understand the society or master the language. Instead of withdrawing myself and wallow in terrible memories and feeling homesick, I prefer to distract myself. He thinks it’s important to construct a social and professional network in the Netherlands. “This can possibly help me to find a job in the future.”
In general, Mustafa considers himself to be an optimistic man and he still strongly cherishes hope and dreams for the future. He replies: “First of all I hope that the problems in my native country will be resolved in order for the war to end and so that we can return and reunite with our family and friends.” Mustafa has lost friends and acquaintances in the war. He wasn’t able to say goodbye to most of them before they died. His face fell when he told us that he hasn’t seen his mother for two years since his family is still residing in Turkey. Because he still doesn’t have a valid passport, he doesn’t have the possibility to visit them.
“In the future I want to write a book. Not in English, nor in Arabic, but in Dutch.”
Furthermore, he wasn’t able to finish his business management studies in Syria, but he hopes he can do it in the Netherlands. If he gets the opportunity he’d like to specialize more in political sciences. He contemplates a bit and concludes: “And in the future I want to write a book. Not in English, nor in Arabic, but in Dutch.” His eyes are sparkling. He laughs.
Mustafa’s policy recommendations:
- Inform Dutch people in an objective manner about the refugee policies and refugees’ background to prevent prejudices and disunity.
- Offer language courses immediately – it’s crucial for a good integration.
- Give us a say in deciding with whom we’ll share our room
Tips for other refugees:
- Try to look for YouTube videos in the language of the country you are staying in. By merely listening you can also learn a language.
- Go out and start a conversation with others. Try to build up your social and professional network.